While it affects an estimated 7 to 8 percent of the general US population, PTSD is a particular problem for people serving in the military. The US Department of Veterans Affairs reports that at some point in their lives, the condition affects about 12 percent of Gulf War veterans, up to 20 percent of Iraq War vets and up to 30 percent of Vietnam veterans. Symptoms include depression, insomnia, flashbacks, and emotional distress, which can over time greatly disrupt a person's everyday life.
"Ongoing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, whether clinically diagnosed or not, are a pervasive problem in the military," says Charles H. Tegeler, principal investigator on the study. "Medications are often used to help control specific symptoms, but can produce side effects. Other treatments may not be well tolerated, and few show a benefit for the associated sleep disturbance. Additional noninvasive, non-drug therapies are needed."
To that end, the Wake team used a technology called high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring (HIRREM). This system works by taking readings of the electrical signals in a patient's brain through sensors placed on their scalp, and feeding these frequencies into a computer. There, algorithms turn those readings into auditory frequencies and play them back in close to real-time, letting patients literally hear their own brain activity.
According to the team, the brain quickly makes the connection that what it's hearing are its own oscillations, and if they're too erratic it will naturally "self-optimize," settling down into a balanced and quiet pattern. As a result, that resets the stress response patterns and helps fight the symptoms of PTSD.
According to newatlas.