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Drug-free treatment is helping kids with anxiety

An FDA-cleared treatment uses electrical stimulation via two handheld Smart Probes

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 4 million children and teenagers in this country have a diagnosis of anxiety. Experts say those numbers unfortunately are on the rise during the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.

In some cases, medication is not an option because of side effects. But an FDA approved electrical stimulation treatment is giving a number of kids in Maine the freedom to live without fear.

Listening to 12-year-old Jordan Ashcroft describe what it's like living with severe anxiety is heartbreaking.

"Every day I wake up wondering what my day is going to be like," Jordan said.

The condition began after Jordan started grade school following a diagnosis of high function autism, ADHD, and speech delays.

The attacks were so bad he eventually had to be home schooled.

"I couldn't do anything without shaking, I couldn't even play outside with my friends without worry about my anxiety taking over," Jordan said.

"They put him on Zoloft he was up for 48 hours and ended up going over the handle bars of his bike," Jordan's mom Candace said.

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Desperate for an alternative to medication to treat Jordan's anxiety, the family discovered Alpha-Stim. A cranial electrical stimulation device approved by the FDA. Specialized clips worn on the earlobes deliver a microcurrent stimulating a specific group of nerve cells allowing the brain to re-balance. Jordan felt the difference after a twenty-minute session.

"I didn't even feel like me anymore, I didn't even feel the anxiety it felt like someone took it and it was gone," Jordan said.

Suzanne Sylvester, a speech language pathologist who provides Alpha-Stim therapy at her clinic Scarborough NeuroDevelopment Center, says the level of the current can be adjusted to increase the alpha waves depending on a patient's comfort level. She says patients have a feeling of calm that lasts for a day or longer following the treatment. Over time, dealing with traumatic events improves as well.

"Your brain develops the capacity to cope with external stress," Sylvester said.

Alpha-Stim treatment is approved for both kids and adults. The retail cost of the device is between 800 and 13-hundred dollars and is not usually covered by insurance plans. 

Sylvester tells News Center Maine, 'only current patients of a provider that provides Alpha-Stim treatment, can purchase a device. The provider must first determine if the patient is eligible. If so, the provider can write a letter of medical necessity to Alpha-Stim so the patient can purchase one.'

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