The month of June calls to create awareness around Alzheimer’s, Brain Health, and PTSD. As we reflect on the realities of PTSD and Alzheimer’s, we cannot help but acknowledge the increasing correlation between these two topics. Fortunately, Brain Health Awareness Month highlights the importance of understanding trauma’s adverse effects on the brain. As consciousness around this issue increases, more early screening presents opportunities for prevention and healing.
What is the Connection Between PTSD and Alzheimer’s?
PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may surface after experiencing a traumatic event in military situations, in cases of abuse, or witnessing or being involved in an accident. As we study PTSD, we learn more about how it alters the brain, wiring it for increased anxiety, depression, intrusive memories, and hyperarousal. Portions of the brain can be affected, such as the amygdala- our threat detection center, the hippocampus- the memory center, and the prefrontal cortex-involved in complex decision making.
Further exploration of brain health and its relation to Alzheimer’s also has identified inflammation in the brain and body, often caused by stress and hypervigilance, as contributing factors. Furthermore, people with PTSD are often sympathetic dominant or in a state of chronic stress and arousal. Continual existence in this state of hyperarousal does not allow the body to enter a complete state of rest, contributing to difficulty sleeping, which is correlated with decreased memory consolidation and disrupted brain performance. Impairment in these areas is linked to reduced brain function and the declining symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
How could treating trauma with ART help prevent Alzheimer’s?
Untreated trauma can leave you in a state of survival (Link). Existing in survival mode for too long has severe repercussions for the brain and the rest of the body. A trauma-informed, trained mental health professional can help you move through traumatic states into feelings of safety. Receiving treatment from an Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) Therapist addresses PTSD quickly, often in as little as one to five sessions. The speed of efficacy is desirable in ART as it prevents the harmful effects of PTSD from taking hold in the brain.
ART helps regulate symptoms of trauma, such as chronic anxiety and depression. An emotional regulation tactic calms the body and helps move clients to rest and digest over a survival mode state. Using techniques such as soothing imagery, bilateral eye movements, and somatic awareness, ART helps form new perspectives and reframe distressing cognitions. With new perspectives and more properly regulated emotions, clients can move through life with improved emotional well-being and quality of life. These two factors contribute to the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
Enhancing Cognitive Functioning:
ART can enhance cognitive function by using cognitive restructuring and addressing thought distortions. As trauma stories are neutralized and then “positized,” individuals develop an improved mindset and more hopeful thinking patterns. Improved and less distressed outlooks contribute to more neural connections and neuroplasticity. Problem-solving abilities and the functioning of memory systems are enhanced, reducing cognitive decline.
Improve Parts of the Brain Affected by Dementia:
Using bilateral eye movements and other therapeutic approaches, ART can access crucial parts of the brain needed that are affected by dementia.
Agitation and irritability are two common symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Both of these emotional states often stem from feelings of fear through over-activation of the amygdala. Through bilateral eye movements and image replacement, ART rewires the amygdala, the fear detection center of the brain to calm fearful thoughts, emotions, and images. Decreasing the hyperactivity of this portion of the brain allows individuals to be less reactive and hyper-alert, giving them a greater ability for the brain to focus on executive functions.
The Prefrontal Cortex
People living with Alzheimer’s often lose the ability to plan and make executive decisions and take general care of themselves. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for making judgments, regulating emotions, and decision-making; as traumatic experiences often impair these actions, ART assists these functions in treating trauma.
Memory slips are a challenging symptom of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The brain’s memory center, the hippocampus, appears to shrink in old age. As traumatic memories are often incoherent, ART helps organize, integrate, and compartmentalize memories. The process of defragmentation allows the memory network to work more efficiently.
Improves Quality of Life
ART reduces cumulative emotional distress, improving the quality of life long term. When individuals who have previously suffered from trauma can handle day-to-day experiences with greater ease, they have the means to participate in everyday society in a greater capacity. A more fulfilling life experience means more enhanced cognitive functioning, the possibility for increased social engagement, and more meaningful life experience.
Promotes Social Engagement
After ART assists clients in improving their quality of life by eliminating triggers, clients feel more comfortable socially engaging. Cognitive stimulation is increased through social interactions as conversations require listening and verbal communication to keep the brain active. Emotional support contributes to emotional well-being and combats feelings of depression and anxiety, which can contribute to cognitive decline. Socialization can be intellectually stimulating as it encourages participation in hobbies and pastimes and contributes to cognitive reserve, or the brain’s ability to adapt and function despite long-term damage or disease.
As ART combines many different kinds of therapy, it can work with all parts of the brain and is more effective than psychotherapy or exposure therapy alone. ART holistically employs somatic and rational healing techniques using a bottom-up and top-down approach.
Even though studies are still being performed on Alzheimer’s, ART presents promising possibilities for improved functioning and overall improved memory by undoing the damaging effects of PTSD on the brain.
If you or someone you love suffers from PTSD or trauma, do not wait to get help. Contact an ART-trained professional near you.