The Connection between current brain research and CP research
30 years ago I asked what brain research was being done for my son’s CP. The answer was none. Not only for his type (15% of the CP population) but also for all CP. My son’s doctor at Stanford Children’s Hospital told me that the money was going to go to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other adult brain issues. BUT he believed that the discoveries about the brain made in that research would apply to and benefit children with CP.
He was correct. Very little research has been done for CP over the past 30 years. That might be starting to change. Attention is starting to be directed to CP in general but a process of differentiating movement issues in CP, and brain causes, has recently begun. He was also correct that the brain research would inform our knowledge of what causes CP. Today, one of the major missing pieces in CP research is interpretation and application of current brain knowledge to people with movement issues.
Recently, in this process of identifying movement issue and cause, some symptoms of people diagnosed with CP have even become treatable. Dopa-responsive dystonia is an example. B12 deficient dystonia is another. The medical community does not have widespread knowledge of this yet, but dissemination of information on the Internet is happening faster than doctors can keep up with. People are bringing in suggestions for their own diagnosis and new solutions. Medicine is changing dramatically and treatment of CP is/should be changing too. I recently heard of a Dr. in Texas whose sole client base is children with CP. That focus is new, and I expect it will contribute enormously to what we know about movement issues in children.
I feel strongly that there is a medical/biological cause for much of the movement issues children and adults are dealing with. Families of children with Autism are pushing the envelope in the field of Biomedicine – the connection between gut, digestion, metabolism and inflammation and/or brain issues. Due to their diligence with avoiding substances that are not tolerated such as foods, toxins, heavy metals, and chemicals, they have reduced or eliminated inflammation and some or all of the symptoms of autism. They have laid the groundwork for other people to benefit from this knowledge of how to clean up the body, eliminate inflammation and get the digestion and metabolism back on track. They have developed protocols for testing and treating, and there is a network of medical professionals who understand and support this process (MAPS doctors). These doctors are open to seeing children with movement issues as well. There is less anecdotal case information about children with movement issues improving from a biomedical approach, but it is growing and doctors are gaining more experience.
Included in that examination of what is influencing the limitations on a brain function is the study of brain activity and neurochemistry. For years, pathologies such as spasticity have been treated by doing surgeries and therapies onthe, completely anatomically correct, limbs and spine. It is known the issue is in the faulty messaging of the brain, but no solutions for resolving the issue at the brain level were available. Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais changed that. His development of the Feldenkrais Method addressed the brain’s functioning. His method has helped many children and adults improve how their brain operates and therefore how they are able to do what they want to do in life. Other Feldenkrais practitioners have continued Feldenkrais’ work. The best known with children with special needs being Anat Baniel. Many families have discovered that ABM (Anat Baniel Method) can make significant changes for their children.
My son has CP – severe athetoid type, quadriplegic, dystonia, with some spasticity, and strongly retained reflexes. At 30 years old he has developed a life he is very happy with. He has probably had more movement sessions (Feldenkrais and ABM) than most people, and he took the first half of the ABM training program (5 segments of the 10 basic segments). His ability to do what he wishes to in life have increased 100 fold because of this work. His limitations are confined to some major movement issues. The ability of his brain to process, problem solve, empathize, etc. surpasses mine at this point.
We recently tried supplementation to improve his digestion and the availability of nutrients to his cells and saw some significant improvement in head control, reflex hijacking, and spasticity. We also experimented with influencing the neurochemical “soup” in his brain with some good results and some side effects.
I have been looking forward to the development of stem cell therapy as a possible repair for the neurological damage that occurred when he was born. I am beginning to see that the situation is not so simple. There is the original damage, the original response to the trauma that can reset homeostasis to higher levels of glutamate production and lower levels of GABA production in the brain, and there are the consequences of experiencing life in a body that is not functioning as designed.
After reading this article below I am getting a clearer picture of the brain changes that can or have occurred just from living with a condition that constantly creates the feeling of falling, the instability, the drain on nutrition resources, etc. Those are adrenalizing conditions. A chronic state of life endangering adrenaline provoking conditions alters the brain. We see this in PTSD.
This article is primarily about addiction research but in an effort to understand the addictive urge doctors have discovered Dopamine, studied glutamate, identified the “pleasure center”, and more recently begun to understood that “neurons that fire together wire together”, and begun to research whether “neurons that fire apart wire apart” to reverse the process.
Link to article – Discovery Magazine – Resetting the Addictive Brain
When I read about neurons firing together in addiction, my thoughts immediately go to the same issue in spasticity and to reflexive triggers that hijack the brain. With these conditions, just as in being ticklish, there is a trigger that causes a large number of neurons to spontaneously fire. That’s what spasticity is – the firing of too many neurons at the same time. This becomes a pattern that grooves into the brain and becomes built into learned intentional actions as well. The solution that ABM/Feldenkrais practitioners employ is to differentiate – which means to “fire apart” so that neurons can “wire apart”. Science has validated what Dr Feldenkrais discovered so many years ago.
Being ticklish can be easily resolved when someone has a typical nervous system. Ticklish, spasticity, reflex triggers, are much more difficult to resolve in someone who has had trauma that has altered their nervous system. People who have had hypoxic brain injury, stroke, TBI, Toxic load, nutritional deficiencies, PTSD, all have outward symptoms the give clues to what is going on in the brain. Thank goodness researchers are finally developing a better idea of what that could be.
Resetting the brain changes. Wow. That sounds exactly like what is needed. Refine that idea. Go with it researchers. Combine that with more knowledge of what is actually happening in the brain of a person with movement issues. Right now they are looking at very invasive processes like Deep Brain Stimulation. That is more refined than previous brain surgical techniques, but subtlety is our friend with the brain.
This study by Eilat Almagor, et al, illustrates the process happening in the brain when a Feldenkrais/ABM practitioner is working. It examines how the subtle change in directed movement chosen based on the practitioner’s intention to create local connection vs system connection appears as firing in different places in the brain. Wow. MRI documentation of the results in the brain of this work as it is happening.
I have confidence that in the future there will be more non-invasive solutions such as Feldenrkais/ABM, and additional ways to help those movement therapies be even more effective through optimizing the systems that have gotten off track. I have talked about the changes from the brain’s response to trauma, the challenge of an atypical neurochemical “soup”, possible digestive and metabolic issues, and the impact of having different movement experiences because of living in a body with different action than it is designed for. Parents drive the differences in perspective and treatment these days. I encourage families to maximize the ability of the child to learn by researching all of these influences.