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Anxiety and Depression: Common Consequences of Brain Injury

Anxiety and Depression: Common Sequelae of Brain Injury and Other Neurologic Disorders

By Jeni Gleason, R.N.

About a month after my right medullary stroke in 2014, I was home from the hospital, walking without an assistive device, and making continual progress in outpatient therapy.  I had experienced an outpouring of love and support from friends and family and was even getting the ball rolling on getting back into nursing school to finish my final year.  It seemed I should feel very lucky to be alive and even more lucky to have regained so much function, after much initial uncertainty if I would ever be able to walk again.  But I had hit an invisible wall, or fallen into an invisible pit, and I never felt so deeply miserable in my entire life.  I felt I should have a zest for life, knowing I had survived a tremendous crisis, relishing in every precious moment.  But every moment felt more like quicksand, and my awareness of this led me to feel tremendous guilt and shame.  I had completely lost my joy.  My happiness, a trait that had rather embodied ‘Jeni’ was totally broken.  I languished for weeks, living in my pajamas and staring at the wall, feigning smiles for friends and family when I could muster it. 

As a nursing student, I thought I had heard remnants of information about hospital-related and post-stroke depression.  The scientist in me got busy fighting – or researching – for my life.   I found lots of information about stroke and depression, much of which hinted towards the debility following stroke being the inflicting factor of depression.  But I was not terribly debilitated, at least not enough to warrant my big time blues, so this did not resonate.  It became clear to me that I most certainly was not alone; most articles I encountered had a slew of commentary from brain injury survivors whose suffered from new onset anxiety and depression following their injury.  Much like me, they were desperately seeking answers that simply weren’t out there.   Most all the research I encountered always stated the same thing: “more research is needed,” and of course the only solutions available were medications and the basic minimally useful self-care tips.   

A study in New Zealand on childhood brain injury survivors revealed a very strong correlation between childhood brain injury with adult anxiety and depression.  Study participants who had suffered a childhood brain injury were five times more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder as an adult, and four times more likely to suffer from panic attacks, phobias, and depression (Kennedy, 2017).  Modern medical science points assumingly towards the trauma and debility experienced during or after a brain injury as the major causative agents.  But if the brain is an organ and it is damaged, and the brain regulates emotions and healthy thought patterns,  and there is a tremendous correlation between brain injuries and these mental health concerns, then why are we not looking at damage to brain tissue as the primary causative factor?  When we start to approach the problem from this perspective, new solutions begin to reveal themselves.  A damaged brain is not fixed with antidepressant meds, and it is certainly not fixed with anxiety meds such as the potentially dangerous and addictive drug-class of benzodiazepines.  But we most certainly can stimulate positive neuroplastic changes and establish more efficient neural pathways through brain rehabilitation, which can have a tremendous impact on overall brain health and emotional regulation.   

Medical science is undoubtedly behind the game when it comes to brain injuries.  The world of functional medicine takes a more holistic approach to matters of health.  Functional medicine practitioners strive to be on the forefront of medical research outside of the typical medical paradigm.  And because of this, the approach to treating health problems shifts away from symptom management, and more towards tapping into the body’s amazing ability to heal given the right tools and fuel to do so.  Chiropractic neurologists, also dubbed functional neurologists, are applying cutting edge therapy techniques to rehabilitate injured brains.  Thanks to a functional neurologist, Dr. VanWinkle, (who I am now proud to call my colleague) I experienced tremendous improvements to my neurologic health; simultaneously my mental health stabilized without the use of medications.  Now I am honored to be part of the healing journey for so many of our patients who commonly report a marked reduction in their anxiety and depression symptoms following a brain rehabilitation program.

The field of functional neurology has developed brain rehab techniques using existing research on our complex neural networks.  One example of how rehabilitating certain areas of the brain can promote positive emotional changes is discussed in Mukkadan, et al.’s review of research (2017) exploring the connection between the vestibular system and the limbic system.  The vestibular system is extensively networked with the limbic system, and hence vestibular stimulation can influence emotional behavior by regulating several higher centers in the central nervous system and autonomic nervous system” (p. 14). The vestibular system is what tells our brain where our body is in space and helps coordinate our movements in regard to that spatial orientation.  Our limbic system has a huge role in producing and regulating our emotions and memories and interacts with our endocrine (hormonal) function in response to our emotions  The vestibular-limbic connection is just one example of how we can positively affect our emotional wellbeing by stimulating and activating our brains properly.  A functional neurologist can determine what areas of your brain may not be functioning optimally and will develop a therapeutic approach to stimulate those areas to promote better function and bring balance back to your nervous system. 

Kennedy, M. (2017, June 7). Childhood brain injury tied to adult anxiety, depression … Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-anxiety-brain-injury-idUSKBN18Y2S5

Mukkadan, J., Rajagopalan, A., Jinu, K., Sailesh, K., Mishra, S., & Reddy, U. (2017). Understanding the links between vestibular and limbic systems regulating emotions. Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, 8(1), 11. doi: 10.4103/0976-9668.198350

Copyright © 2020 Colorado Integrative Neurology. All Rights Reserved. Jeni Gleason is a registered nurse and Colorado Integrative Neurology's assistant neuro therapist. To learn more about how we can help you with your health goals visit our website at www.coloradointegrativeneurology.com or email us at cin@coloradointegrativeneurology.com. A free initial consultation can be scheduled by calling our office at (720) 328-5076.


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Self-Care Tips for Brain Injury Survivors

Self-Care Tips for Brain Injury Survivors

By Jeni Gleason, RN

For those who have survived a brain injury or live with another neurologic condition, self-care becomes a major priority!  Brain tissue is highly metabolically active – in other words, it has a very high energy demand.  For those who have had a TBI, stroke, or other neurologic condition, their nervous system simply does not have as much reserve as someone with an optimally functioning nervous system.  Pushing through early warning signs of neurologic fatigue can often result in major setbacks in regard to one’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.  Here are some simple but important self-care tips that are sure to help you live your best life: 

Know your boundaries, and learn to say “NO”

Your body has a subtle but powerful way of communicating with you.  Learn what its messages are trying to tell you, honor them, and your body will better serve you.   Pay attention to cues like brain fog, body tension, emotional volatility, depression, fatigue, digestive issues, or increased intensity of baseline neurologic symptoms.  Your boundaries may vary from day to day but learn to stop going before you hit the wall.  You have likely paid the price for running into the wall, and it doesn’t serve anyone – especially you – when you cannot function well for days or weeks to come after pushing too hard.  Express your need to honor your limits with your loved ones.  Encourage them to get educated about the silent symptoms that you experience.  It’s OK to say no and to ask for help!   Remember you will accomplish more in the long term if you manage your energy stores in the present. 


Get plenty of sleep

Quality sleep is imperative for anyone who lives with a neurologic condition.  Sleep provides your body and mind the opportunity to rest and repair.  Chances are you are much more sensitive to the effects of sleep deprivation since the onset of your neurologic condition.   Try to go to bed around the same time every night.  Avoid caffeine and other stimulants, especially in the evening.  Avoid screen time for a couple of hours before bed is especially important as electronic devices will ramp up your brain activity.  Consider making deep breathing, meditation, or yoga nidra a part of your evening routine.  Eat a bedtime snack that contains fat or protein to sustain your blood sugars until the morning and prevent wakefulness in the middle of the night.  Some find natural products like CBD oil, diffused or topical lavender oil, or valerian root helpful.  Always consult with a trusted healthcare professional before introducing new medications or supplements into your regimen. 

Eat a nutritious diet and avoid processed foods

You are absolutely what you eat.  Our brains and nervous tissue are more sensitive to inflammation than any other tissue in our body.   Our brains also have a tremendous energy demand, so make sure to eat regularly throughout the day and always have healthy snacks with you.  Pay close attention to how certain foods make you feel.  A strong first step in cleaning up the fuel you are giving your brain is to completely eliminate processed foods and refined sugars.  Start reading labels and stick to the perimeter of the grocery store.   Consider eliminating common inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy and observe for shifts in how your feel.  Reintroduce foods one at a time and be alert to any negative symptoms.  If you are ready to take your health to the next level, it may be a good idea to consult with a clinical nutritionist who can help guide you through an elimination diet to reveal your individual hidden food sensitivities.   Clinical nutritionists can also recommend supplements that can support optimal health and brain function. 

Take frequent “brain breaks” throughout the day

In our busy world, taking breaks can often seem impossible.  But if you live with a neurologic disorder, chances are you know that waiting until you are beat to rest will often results in detrimental effects to your wellbeing.  If you have a busy workday, a physically demanding activity to undertake, or even a highly stimulating social gathering to attend, do not take for granted the immense benefit that taking small breaks can have on your neurologic health and stamina.  Remember, your brain is constantly processing an unbelievably immense amount of information through your five senses!  Giving it a 5-minute rest at regular intervals may give you the stamina you need to get through the day’s demands.  Try to minimize as much stimulus as possible to maximize the potency of the rest – close or cover your eyes, reduce noise or play soft calming music, sit or lie down, and reduce your mental activity by focusing on a deep breathing exercise. 

Minimize screen time

Electronic screens are highly stimulating and can be very aggravating for many who live with neurologic conditions.  In the modern world, is usually unrealistic to abandon technology, so we must learn to implement ways to engage with screens that are less detrimental to our health.  Take a break from your screen every 30 minutes to an hour.  Make sure that your laptop or cell phone is positioned at eye level and at least an arm’s length away, as angling our eyes inward and down is not healthy for our brains.  Be sure to turn the blue light filter on and adjust the screen brightness to an appropriate level for your comfort. 


Be grateful for your amazing brain and believe in its ability to heal and change!

Living with a brain injury or other neurologic condition is challenging.  It is easy to take having a healthy neurologic system for granted, until something isn’t working right… then the simplest of tasks can become challenging, exhausting, or even impossible.  It is normal to grieve the loss of your abilities, and to feel sad about your struggles.  Acknowledge those feelings but try not to let them become patterned in your psyche.  Develop a pattern of gratitude and it will become your attitude.  Your attitude will help you see yourself and your condition in a different light, and this shift alone can have a tremendous impact on your neurologic health and overall wellbeing.  Most importantly, give thanks to your amazing brain and acknowledge that it is able to overcome and adapt in miraculous ways.  We now know that neural tissue can continue to heal – slowly but surely – over time given the right fuel and stimulus.  Hold a vision of your healthiest and best you and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you “are as good as you are going to get!”  There are going to be good days and bad days, but over time you are sure to look back on your journey in awe at how far you have come.

Copyright © 2020 Colorado Integrative Neurology. All Rights Reserved. Jeni Gleason, RN is a neurotherapist at Colorado Integrative Neurology. To learn more about how we can help you with your health goals visit our website at www.coloradointegrativeneurology.com or email us at cin@coloradointegrativeneurology.com. A free initial consultation can be scheduled by calling our office at (720) 328-5076.


Colorado Integrative Neuology Stock Photos doctor and patient PTCWRJP

Cognitive Performance: How Healthy is Your Brain?

Cognitive Performance: How Healthy is Your Brain?

By Jeni Gleason RN

Measure Your Cognitive Performance to Optimize Brain Health – Cambridge Brain Sciences Health is Available at Colorado Integrative Neurology!

Here at Colorado Integrative Neurology, brain health is our passion and our specialty, and measuring cognitive performance is an important component of our comprehensive neurologic assessment process.  Whether your neurologic health has been impacted by a head injury, dementia, or even stress, it is likely that you have experienced a decline in cognitive function.  Experiencing memory loss, brain-fog, or declined ability to focus can be very concerning, if not frightening!  Our team understands the tremendous impact that complex neurologic disorders can have on one’s ability to live life to the fullest, and we are dedicated to helping our patients achieve optimal brain health. 

CBS Health:  An Engaging and Scientifically Validated Cognitive Assessment Platform

CBS Health provides a valuable assessment tool that allows us to evaluate our patients’ baseline cognitive health, as well as to measure improvements as they progress through their neurologic rehabilitation journey.  The CBS Health assessment is comprised of a quick, fun series of tasks that objectively measure your memory, reasoning, verbal ability, and attention – all facets of cognition that are important in your everyday life.  The CBS Health tasks have been validated by decades of scientific research and are proven to measure the most important aspects of cognition.  Performance is directly linked with the areas of your brain that are required for each cognitive domain.  Along with balance, eye movements, and other measurements of neurologic function, Dr. VanWinkle also evaluates fluctuations in our patients’ cognition as an important tool to monitor their progress in their rehabilitation program.  CBS Health assessments are not an IQ test!  There’s no judgment, and the goal is progress over time, because we acknowledge that brain health changes from day to day. 

How do I get Started?

If you or your loved one are experiencing a decline in cognitive function or other neurologic symptoms, contact us today to schedule a Discovery Session.  During this complimentary 30-minute appointment with Dr. VanWinkle, you will have an opportunity to discuss your current concerns and learn how Colorado Integrative Neurology can help you meet your health goals. 

Take your sample CBS Health cognitive assessment today!  Click on the link below to begin: 

https://home.cambridgebrainsciences.com/en/site/colorado_integrative_neurology_demo/

Copyright © 2020 Colorado Integrative Neurology. All Rights Reserved. Jeni Gleason, RN is a neuro-therapist at Colorado Integrative Neurology. To learn more about how we can help you with your health goals visit our website at www.coloradointegrativeneurology.com or email us at cin@coloradointegrativeneurology.com. A free initial consultation can be scheduled by calling our office at (720) 328-5076.


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A Message of Hope & Healing: Jeni's Story

A Message of Hope and Healing:  Jeni's Story

Jeni Gleason, RN

            My passion for living a healthy life and my love of people are at the heart of my professional pursuits, which is why I am honored to have joined the incredible team at Colorado Integrative Neurology.  As a stroke survivor, I am so happy to be able to share the same hope and healing that I experienced as a patient at CIN.  The science and art of functional neurology is truly astounding in it's potential to improve the quality of lives of brain injury victims and those suffering with a multitude of other neurologic disorders.

            In June of 2014 I suffered a right medullary stroke secondary to a vertebral artery dissection, a fancy way of saying that I tore the inner layer of a small artery near the cervical spine which led to a blot clot that broke free and went to my midbrain.  I was 34 years old, highly active, halfway through nursing school, and had just met the love of my life six months prior.   My life as I knew it and hoped it would be was forever changed that day.

            When I arrived at the ER, I was incredibly dizzy, vomiting uncontrollably, had such severe nystagmus such that I could not open my eyes, and had severe progressive weakness on my right side with abnormal sensory feelings on my left side.  Multiple CT scans and MRI’s left the doctors mystified (my stroke was missed in the original imaging studies, and was not found until a neurologist was reviewing my case months later).  I was bed bound, needing the assistance of at least two adults just to transfer to a commode, and was exhausted by what seemed should be simple tasks.  My neurologists were hesitant to prognose my recovery and seemed doubtful I would ever walk again.  I spent a week hospitalized in the neurology unit and then spent another week in the inpatient rehabilitation unit.  I discharged from the hospital able to walk short distances, very ungracefully, with an assistive device.  

            The months to come of my initial recovery period were terrifying and humiliating, but despite all this I learned to allow myself to ask for and accept help, and to be totally loved and supported by my friends and family.  I also began to realize something… I was not my body.  I was much, much more than my body. And it was that inner force within me, call it soul or whatever you will, that was going to do whatever it took to become my best, healthiest self again.  

            Finding Colorado Integrative Neurology was a huge part of that journey to optimal wellness.  Last year I underwent five months of functional neurorehabilitation at CIN which nearly eliminated my residual stroke symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, balance issues, weakness, and pain.  I have since returned to doing all the things I loved to do before my stroke, and no longer take my ability to do these things for granted.  I have learned to honor and respect my body as the miraculous vehicle of my soul, so I can honestly say I feel healthier now than I ever did. 

           I now think of my stroke as the “best worst thing that ever happened to me.”  In June I celebrated my 5th stroke anniversary.  I consider myself to be very fortunate, but I also give myself a lot of credit… I have battled HARD!  Ultimately, I know I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the support I received from my loved ones, or for the incredible team at Colorado Integrative Neurology.  This spring I left my career as a hospice nurse case manager to join the CIN team.  I am eternally grateful for Dr. VanWinkle and Dr. Perez, and am extremely excited to be joining this practice in their mission to help so many others who have suffered from a variety of brain injuries and neurologic disorders.