Brain Waves and Parkinson’s: A Possible Link to the ‘Flicker Effect’
While searching for a way to communicate telepathically, German psychiatrist Hans Berger invented the EEG machine to measure pulsating electrical brain activity in 1924. Professing my ignorance, I know more about telepathy as “advanced empathy” from my PhD thesis than I do about electroencephalography, or EEG.
Seldom do I stray outside my field of brain rehabilitation. But the scattered bits of information connecting beta waves to Parkinson’s disease are too intriguing for me to ignore.
The EEG offers a view into the brain’s beta wave activity. Delving deeper, I discovered that several research groups have tied beta wave activity to deep brain stimulation. An article published in the journal Annals of Neurology in 2013 shares how researchers applied adaptive deep brain stimulation (aDBS) to patients with advanced Parkinson’s, whereby stimulation is automatically adjusted according to a neurophysiological biomarker of clinical state, such as beta waves. aDBS has been studied in Parkinsonian primates and patients. It has been reported to be more efficient and effective in alleviating motor symptoms than conventional methods.
Research conducted in 2016 at Brown University focused on bursts of beta wave activities. A team of neuroscientists trialed experiments that have yielded a new understanding of how the brain produces beta rhythms. A Brown news article noted that, “Beta rhythms, or waves of brain activity with an approximately 20 Hz frequency, accompany vital fundamental behaviors such as attention, sensation and motion and are associated with some disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.”
I first wrote about my experiences with what I characterized as Parkinson’s brain surges in the book “Possibilities with Parkinson’s: A Fresh Look.” The link to beta bursts is reasonable, but not proven. I like it as a working model to further describe the flicker effect. These beta bursts could be the manifestation of the flicker, the burst, and they could possibly explain the surge of my episodic symptoms.
Seven years ago, I retired because the flicker effect impaired my ability to teach at the graduate college level. Now armed with a brain model concept, I can use the flicker effect as biofeedback for my Parkinson’s self-management. I call this process threshold management, and I’m continually striving to understand and implement it.
I don’t think it’s impossible to retrain our brains so they function better with Parkinson’s, despite all the bad press. I just need a road map to guide the neurogenic rewiring process. I don’t want the cozy travel blanket of, “Think positive and it will be all right.” My road map shows a path of hard work based on both science and my personal experience. And that road map includes threshold management.
Threshold management is not just an hour a day of quiet time. I experience the flicker effect multiple times a day and developed threshold management to lessen the negative impact on my behaviors and symptoms. Doing so promotes homeostasis and helps keep the well of resources from running dry.
When I first started practicing the flicker biofeedback strategy, I was overwhelmed. Each flicker required my utmost concentration on its nature with the goal of limiting the effects. So much brain and body noise would occur that it took me years to sort out the various sources of noise. I discovered that much of the noise is tied to malfunctions in regulatory systems linked to the dopamine centers. It is hard to shift the brain to think in new ways, but a new model as a map can help.
I find these beta wave studies, where researchers align beta wave activity with Parkinson’s, encouraging.
The Brown research was published in the journal eLife in 2017. In a subsequent Brown news article, senior author Stephanie R. Jones noted that, “Typically with non-invasive brain stimulation you are trying to entrain a rhythm. What our results suggest is that’s not what the brain is doing. The brain is doing this intermittent pattern of activity.”
In a previous column, I suggested that Parkinson’s may present uniquely among patients. Attend any Parkinson’s support group, and you’ll see variations in the presentation of symptoms.
Parkinson’s doesn’t have a simple, classic, four-cardinal-symptoms presentation. Understanding beta wave activity and the concept of bursts allows researchers to better understand individual presentation.
Following the publication of a study about the potential of brain wave recordings for Parkinson’s treatments, conducted by University of California, San Francisco neuroscientists, a Neuroscience News article noted that, “These broad findings help clarify some underlying factors in Parkinson’s Disease, but every Parkinson’s patient will likely have their own unique brain wave fluctuations.”
What I find most compelling about this research is that early identification of episodic Parkinson’s symptoms — the “flicker” — may become more useful to both providers and patients. Individualized presentations may allow for early treatment.
Sharing these thoughts, finding validating scientific research, and writing these columns gives me hope — for myself and everyone affected by Parkinson’s. Shifting how to view Parkinson’s and then using the new view to find the possibilities in Parkinson’s is very much possible.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.