Healing through technology

Healing through technology

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Denise Surette

Navigating the murky waters of brain-based disorders has been a complex and sometimes controversial subject since the beginning of modern medicine. How does the brain work? Can brain injury and disease be treated? These are some of the questions that have plagued 20th- and 21st-century scientists for years.

Lisa Dennis is one of those health professionals who is fascinated with the brain and the capacity for those with brain injuries or disease to be rehabilitated. Her obsession with healing came in a roundabout way. She has been an occupational therapist for nearly 20 years and has worked with patients with a wide range of disorders, including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a brain-based disorder with a multitude of complex symptoms. After diving into FASD research, she experienced her own brain injury and was moved to delve deeper into how to help others with similar issues.

“Since 2011, when I started getting fascinated with the brain, I was also going through my own struggles with having concussions and ADHD symptoms and became fascinated with my own brain,” says Dennis. “I started looking into finding ways to rehabilitate the brain. Usually, what is given to people are a lot of coping strategies and sometimes that is not enough.”

Since completing her master’s degree last May and having taken numerous workshops and training programs, Dennis amassed an office full of cutting-edge technology to track brain waves in patients and software to analyze data gained through recording brain activity. Lisa’s Holistic Rehab offers this investigation to patients with a host of disorders, including ADHD, PTSD, concussions and sensory processing disorders.

“As an occupational therapist, the goal of our practice is to help people be as independent as they possibly can, regardless of their injury or disorder,” says Dennis. “Sometimes, a lot of that has to do with coping strategies, but we always ask first: Is this a diagnosis that can be rehabilitated? When it comes to brain-based disorders, I don’t know where, but somewhere along the line, we stopped asking that question of how we can rehabilitate the brain.”

The basis of the treatments is through neurofeedback. But first, she records a patient’s brain waves to discover if there is an anomaly within those patterns.

“Our brainwaves change from time-to-time, depending on what we are doing. If we are sleeping, it’s a brainwave, if we are relaxing that’s another brainwave, if we are really focused that is another brainwave. We expect to see certain brainwave activity when you are in a relaxed state, if we see anything different than what we expect, then we know there is something going on that shouldn’t be.”

Once the anomaly is detected, audio or visual feedback (specific neurofeedback) is provided to the patient to help with rehabilitation.

“With that new protocol, we put the same sensors on them again, but instead, they are having auditory feedback like a beeping sound or visual feedback like animation or a show that gets brighter or darker. The brain picks up on this and is rewarded — the brain wants to continue getting rewarded. After a number of sessions it gets into the right zone by itself.”

Dennis admits her work has been met with surprise and confusion from some people. She is the only person in Nova Scotia offering this type of rehabilitation and uses some technology and techniques not seen anywhere in Atlantic Canada. She says the importance of this alternative rehabilitation is giving people not only a choice in how they treat their disorders, but also to help give a thorough diagnosis on what they have.

“I get a lot of people with the diagnosis of ADHD, but it’s important to understand that ADHD, the symptoms including inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity, those symptoms appear in over a dozen other diagnoses. That’s why I do the bottom-up approach — I really want to get to the root cause.”

As her business grows, Dennis will also be starting her doctorate through Boston University and hopes to continue her research and rehabilitation treatments for Nova Scotians. For more information, visit www.lisasholisticrehab.com.

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