Just in time for Memorial Day, researchers have uncovered an enhanced self-treatment method for military veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After risking their lives to serve our nation, veterans often return home with substantial anxiety from chronic or short-term PTSD. However, many with PTSD are hesitant to seek treatment because of the stigmas and symptoms surrounding the condition. Psychiatry professor Dr. Ruth Lanius has uncovered an efficient self-treatment method to reduce the anxiety resulting from the disorder.
PTSD is a condition characterized by a variety of symptoms that may differ per patient. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, several symptoms of the disorder include flashbacks, hyperarousal, and avoidance. The condition may begin after the occurrence of a traumatic experience, such as explosions and other life-threatening situations that veterans may live through when deployed. Such traumatic events may trigger the onset of PTSD by causing abnormalities in areas of the brain’s frontal cortex associated with memory, including the amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, according to researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine. As a result of damaged memory systems, patients may experience significant stress when remembering traumatic events.
Dr. Lanius from the Lawson Health Research Institute in Ontario recently published her findings on a new self-care method developed for PTSD patients. Dr. Lanius focused her experiment on the hyperarousal of patients. As explained by MedicalXpress:
With hyperarousal, patients experience changes in physical and emotional reactions including being easily startled or frightened; always being on guard for danger; self-destructive behaviour, such as drinking too much or driving too fast; trouble sleeping; trouble concentrating; irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior; and overwhelming guilt or shame.
For the experiment, Dr. Lanius utilized electroencephalography (EEG) to measure alpha rhythms, brain activity associated with feelings of relaxation, in PTSD patients experiencing hyperarousal. During the experiment, patients played a thirty-minute video game of a simulation of flying a spaceship during a starry night. The goal of the game was to keep the ship moving forward. Dr. Lanius found that the patients received immediate feedback from the independence of solving problems related to the game. As a result of the simulation, alpha rhythms restored to healthy levels and hyperarousal decreased in patients, meaning that PTSD symptoms reduced and patients were able to relax.
The findings of the study by Dr. Lanius are significant as they indicate that playing the video game could allow effective self-treatment for PTSD patients. The video game is an alternative to medications and psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” which is immense because PTSD patients typically struggle in silence for years before seeking treatment, according to the National Veterans Foundation. The foundation also notes that more U.S. troops have died from suicide than have been killed in Afghanistan over the last sixteen years. PTSD puts veterans at an alarmingly higher risk of self-harm compared to the general population. By enabling patients to treat themselves through the video game, the suicide rate and overall suffering of those with PTSD may decrease.
Dr. Lanius and her team are currently replicating the experiment with a larger sample size to test if the video game could provide long-lasting effects on alpha rhythms and hyperarousal. The study offers hope to military veterans and their families impacted by PTSD. By providing self-care methods for former combatants, researchers are making great strides for the nation by giving back to those who give so much on behalf of their country and the liberty and freedom for which it stands.