Cognitive FX Day 1: What We're Working With
Most of the day was baseline tests and evaluations, mainly to give me a better idea of what I'll be doing all week and to see where I'm at.
Started with an evaluation with the Neuromuscular Therapist. We tested my balance, with tests seemingly designed to make you dizzy. This followed by a session of binaural beats with a breathing practice. Then a thing called Dynavision, which is a board with lights you push when they turn on. Had to do that while telling a story, memorizing words, and then while stepping from side to side. That last one really got to me, took a lot of effort, and made me dizzy. After lunch, there was a visual acuity test, which I did really well on. Then a mindfulness exercise. After that, I finally did the brain scan. Both an FNCI (functional Neurocognitive Imaging) and regular MRI, which will be the real meat of the update here shortly. I was in the machine for 50 minutes. The concentration led to a minor headache and tingling in my hands (which apparently makes sense, based on the results). Then I had a cardio session, mainly, again, more of a demonstration of what to expect the rest of the week.
I end the day with a review of the brain scan results. Buckle up. I'll try and do the best I can to explain, but I'm not the neuro-scientist.
We start with the “Severity Index Score”. I feel like it’s fairly self-explanatory. A perfectly functioning brain would be anywhere from -0.7 to +0.7. My score of 2.00 indicates fairly severe trauma or injury to some part of the brain. The Itemized Biomarker Scores are indicators of the various specific areas of the brain and how badly they’re struggling. Anything over .8 is noteworthy and something we want to address. You can see “Attentional” is my weakest, although most parts are struggling at least somewhat. Visual is peachy keen, at least in the way that I can see things, you’ll see in a moment processing what I see is a different story.
The first brain scan test was looking at reasoning, problem, puzzle solving. This and the following charts indicated blood flow. Ideally, you’re in the middle, and the black bars should be touching or within a few standard deviations of each other. That would indicate your brain is working efficiently. In a nutshell what my result here indicates is that the rational thinking part of my brain (in orange, the only part of the brain you have control over) is working REALLY hard because of the overactive reactive part of my brain (in light blue).
The second test involved task switching and prolonged focus. The low result in purple indicates a lack of blood flow to that part of the brain. Which is what causes the increased blood flow in the others. This one indicates some degree of damage or trauma to my ability to remain focused, which requires the more frontal parts of my brain to be more reactive and I have to actually stop and think to move to the next task. This one made me laugh out loud as she was explaining it, because it explains why I'm bad at remembering directions, especially in comparison to my brother. This is where I started to form the headache. In the front of my head, where all the blood is flowing to compensate.
This test was a series of black and white illustrations, I simply had to name them. You can see they’re all fairly low, which indicates low blood flow. I was slow in this test because I can cognitively identify and name the objects accurately, but more blood flow would mean more automatic quicker responses. You see she drew a line from A to B, going from the most automatic part of the brain to the more active. The -3 on the right is another indicator of my autonomic nervous system is damaged, it’s not getting blood flow, so I have to struggle to actively think about what I see.
This one really clicked. Basically what it indicates is my autobiographical, and long-term memory are really good, but short term is not. This is exactly why I can’t remember your name after I meet you for the first time, but I do remember my 16th birthday, going to Dave and Buster's, and getting into my first car accident.
This one is pretty good, basically, it means I know stuff good. This is why I’m good at math and pretty good at remembering facts and the meanings of obscure words. Probably also why I'm good at organizing. All the black bars are really close, so those connections are good, but the blood flow is still low, so there is room for improvement. Meanwhile…
I don’t remember stuff good. The stand-out here indicates damage to the part of my brain that controls fight or flight. The last two tests combined can explain why I think I’m an extrovert and am capable of acting like one, but why my heart rate shoots through the rough, I sweat and shake and my hands start to go numb at the thought of interacting with people. As it happened while testing these parts of the brain. Her analogy was if information and stimuli are a series of tennis balls being thrown your direction being in the middle means you have a big basket to catch them with. It's easy to catch and you can hold a lot. My numbers are more like I have a red solo cup and not only is it REALLY hard to catch any, but I can only hold one or two at a time.
The approach Cognitive FX takes is to work on EVERY part of the brain. We’re going to try and teach the overcompensating parts to slow down a bit to give the struggling parts a chance, and where we can’t bring the struggling parts up the goal is to get more parts involved in the whole process so that my frontal cortex isn’t wearing itself out so fast. There really aren’t any guarantees, but most patients do see a decrease in the “Severity Index Score” after this week. The doctor feels very confident that we should see improvement in the energy use of my frontal cortex and by extension the lessening of my biggest symptom of fatigue. There’s so much room for improvement that I could also come out the other end more or less a completely different person. I’m so thrilled to be here, I already have answers I didn’t before I started and a knowledge that will help me cope, if not fully recover, for a much better quality of life moving forward. This is incredible. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and I can’t wait to share more of it soon!