Managing the Flicker Effect: A Conversation With Neo
“Why are you standing on top of that chair?” Dr. C sees Neo precariously balanced on the chair under the kitchen ceiling light. Neo is the part of Dr. C’s brain that functions as his inner voice.
“This lightbulb has been flickering. It’s so annoying! I’m trying to fix that.” Neo wobbles a bit on the chair, reaching a bit farther to tap on the lightbulb. “Sometimes, if I give it a little whack across its metaphorical lightbulb ‘head,’ it will stop flickering.”
While Neo climbs down and drags the chair back to the table, he asks, “Come to think of it, isn’t that like the ‘flicker effect’ you’ve been writing about?”
Dr. C carefully puts down his morning bowl of strawberries and finishes the last careful swallow before he replies. “Like the flow of electricity to a lightbulb, we have a flow of neural activity in our brain. A constant stream of it. When the brain gets damaged with Parkinson’s disease (PD), the flow of this stream gets interrupted. We get brief episodes of PD symptoms in the early stages. We start to feel symptoms that seem to flicker on and off.”
Neo nods. “That makes sense. Like the lightbulb, our system will flicker before it fails. Does that mean if I tap your head, you will function better?”
“Well, sort of.” Dr. C laughs. “What helps is using a shift in perspective — a head tap of sorts — to bring new possibilities to light. The shift is about changing how the flicker affects my life. When I decrease the flicker effect, my symptoms are not so loud.”
“Are you saying that PD causes a ‘flicker effect,’ and you can do something about that?” Neo asks, a bit incredulous.
“Exactly! If we can manage the flicker effect, it keeps the well of resources from running dry and decreases our chance of experiencing a threshold crossing event, thus avoiding the ugly days.
“I know when I’ve crossed the threshold. My thinking isn’t clear, and my muscles aren’t working properly. The ability to interact with the world in a meaningful manner is significantly curtailed. I manage the flickers of my ‘broken brain’ to minimize crossing over.”
Dr. C continues, “If I do cross over, it takes me 24 to 48 hours to recover from the ugly day and return to just having a bad day. So many resources are drained when dealing with the ugly day. To lessen that, I use threshold management. Successful threshold management frees up resources, which allows me to work on mindful movement.
“I use the phrase ‘broken brain’ in reference to the experiences of crossing over the threshold. It doesn’t mean that PD patients aren’t fully functional the rest of the time. It isn’t meant to be disparaging. It is a wake-up call that says, ‘PD patients need to manage, as much as they can, the symptoms and their lives to be as functional, productive, and, may I say, happy as possible. I’m using the term ‘broken brain’ as a huge, red stop sign that says, ‘Don’t give up the fight.'”
Dr. C. offers, “It has taken seven years of mental retraining to discover and implement my personal PD brain rehab program. One of the most important parts is exercise. Many researchers and clinicians know that exercise can offset the progression of PD. I am always citing research and references that support the compensatory strategies that I share with my readers.
“Medical studies have indicated that proper exercise consistently improves cognition and is linked to enhanced neuroplasticity,” Dr. C continues. “Exercise is a huge part of my PD brain rehab program. Fortunately, I still work in our gardens several times a week. A couple of hours on good or even bad days, and the benefits are worth the effort in overcoming my resistance. There are plenty of days when exercise is the last thing this body wants to do.
“Some may hold on to the idea that there is a quick fix and cure out there,” Dr. C says. “For me, I believe in the power of the human mind to rewire and heal. We just need a good map. This map-making is what I started devoting my efforts to seven years ago.”
Neo smiles and points at the overhead kitchen light. The light has stopped its blinking. Neo says, “We are on the edge of a new frontier, learning how to use the new map. New tools to help people live better with Parkinson’s will continue to emerge, improving what is possible. Maybe someday we will understand how to help people use threshold management as part of a rehab map for living better with PD.”
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.