Brain clinics, qEEG brain mapping and TMS are catchwords of a new focus on brain health
Words Jane Zatylny
The human brain is the original information superhighway. And like the electronic networks that control so much of our lives, it is unimaginably complex, with overpasses and off ramps, service roads and four-lane freeways, country laneways and congested city streets. Without a road map, we can easily lose our way.
Many of us know only too well what a loss of cognitive function can mean. I watched my own mother struggle with dementia following her stroke at age 72. If possible, I hope to avoid the same condition. Given the number of apps, cookbooks and supplements that promise to improve our memory and attention span, I know I’m not alone.
According to Psych Central, an independent mental health information and news website, mental health will continue to be a top health trend in 2022 as we move through the third year of the pandemic.
“A recent poll by the American Psychiatric Association showed that one-quarter of Americans made a new year’s resolution to improve their mental health in 2022,” they note.
The trend, which has been fuelled by the athletes, celebrities, and various public figures who discussed their challenges with mental health over the last year, is leading to a growing interest around brain health. Techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and qEEG brain mapping are gaining momentum, along with the private brain clinics that offer them.
What exactly is brain health? A report published last year in The Lancet Neurology proposed a definition of brain health in adults as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing through the continuous development and exercise of the brain.”
“People are realizing that mind and body are very much connected,” explains Dr. Kourosh Edalati, psychiatrist and medical director of Elumind Centres for Brain Excellence, a private outpatient brain health centre in North Vancouver. “We are outgrowing the stigma surrounding mental health…Look at tennis star Naomi Osaka. She courageously talked about her mental health struggles and everyone applauded her.”
He adds: “This realization allows us to bring mental health, which was in the background before, to the forefront, without feeling judged.”
Brain health relies on three pillars: healthy biology through positive sleep and nutritional habits, a positive social environment, and a sense of purpose. Interestingly, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated our need for physical, psychological and social well-being, intensifying the interest in brain health.
“The pandemic slowed everything down,” explains Kourosh. “It forced us to be much more reflective. Everyone really looked at their priorities and their real purpose of life while they were isolating.”
The mind-body connection
Kourosh, a long-time practitioner of meditation, was first exposed to benefits of the mind-body connection when he was a young immunology student at McGill University. He noticed that certain foods had a major impact on his immune system, not only helping him fend off illness but also calming his mind.
“People around me nicknamed me the ‘Zen dude,’” he says.
After observing the connection between the domains of biology, psychology, spiritual beliefs and social networks, the psychiatry graduate from the University of British Columbia decided that a more comprehensive approach to healing the brain and the body was needed. In 2019, he opened his clinic, where he offers an integrated approach to brain health.
qEEG brain mapping
“When I discovered qEEG (quantitative electroencephalogram) brain mapping a few years ago, I saw the connection between biology and psychology beautifully displayed,” says Kourosh.
qEEG brain mapping adds a quantitative dimension to an electroencephalogram (EEG) test. It painlessly captures electrical activity in the brain using small, metal discs (sensors) attached to a cap worn by the patient, then clinicians measure brainwaves and compare them against a database of conventionally functioning or “neurotypical” brains.
“When we do a qEEG map, we can relate biological processes to the brain’s electrical activity and display the relationship between the psychology and the biology, or lack thereof,” explains Kourosh. “qEEG brain mapping is a very objective process of showing areas of strength and deficiency.”
qEEG brain mapping is just one of the services offered at Elumind clinic, where visits begin with a complete therapeutic assessment.
“We take an integrated approach with the assessment,” says Kourosh. “We look at every aspect of mental health including the spiritual aspect, make recommendations and then go with our patients’ preferences for treatment.”
TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)
During this Health Canada-approved procedure, an electromagnetic coil is placed against the scalp in the forehead region, where it painlessly delivers a magnetic pulse. This pulse is believed to stimulate or inhibit nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood, pain and cognitive control. TMS treatments for depression, for example, are typically administered over a six-week period, in five 10- to 40-minute weekday sessions. The cost, which is not yet covered by BC’s Medical Services Plan, is $220 per session for 30 sessions and includes the qEEG brain mapping.
“TMS is a targeted non-invasive treatment with very few adverse effects that allows us to get to the areas that need better blood flow,” says Kourosh. “This allows better regulation of neurotransmitter chemicals in that region through neuroplasticity and really alleviates the symptoms the patient may be experiencing.”
While the clinic treats patients of all ages except the very young, Kourosh says that the baby-boomer generation has been the most impacted by the lifting of the stigma surrounding mental health.
“I now see baby boomer parents supporting young clients to come get help. It’s very refreshing.”
He congratulates those who search for ways to improve their mental and brain health, noting, “It’s a courageous journey, but a journey that has absolute wonders embedded in it.”
Wherever you may be on your own journey, brain mapping, TMS and other mental health-related services may help you better navigate your neural superhighway.
Choosing a brain health clinic
A reputable clinic should have a psychiatrist or clinical neuropsychologist on staff to interpret the results of patient assessments and testing.
“Many diagnoses share the same symptoms, so interpretation requires a trained eye,” says Kourosh. “For example, anxiety can look like depression, trauma can look like insomnia, and side effects of medication can present as ADHD or other mental focus issues.”
A psychiatrist can also clarify what (if any) medications could be useful for treatment, or in some cases eliminate the need for medication altogether by identifying possible therapeutic interventions that will specifically address the presenting issue successfully, he adds.