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Brain stimulation for anxiety changing lives in Maine

An approved brain stem stimulation device used for decades to reduce anxiety is gaining new attention in Maine.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Jessica Lewin has epilepsy and also suffers from severe anxiety brought on by fear of falling during a seizure.

The mother of four and full-time college student has had more than a half dozen concussions. The medication for the seizure disorder is not 100 percent effective. 

"There is so much anxiety that comes with that," Lewin said.

Lewin started seeing Suzanne Sylvester, a speech-language pathologist at Scarborough Neurodevelopment Center, for lingering concussion symptoms including speech problems and memory loss.  

Because stress can hinder cognitive function, Sylvester also treats anxiety with Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation.  No bigger than an iPhone, the FDA cleared device, called the Alpha-Stim is connected to electrodes you clip onto your earlobes. It sends a small current that increases alpha waves across the brain. 

"What Alpha-Stim does is put our brain into the same mode like when you are doing yoga, puts you in a relaxed state a non-anxiety state," Sylvester said. 

"It made me feel like I was on a boat but it actually does make you come down with the anxiety," Lewin said.

Sylvester says the feeling of calm lasts for a day or two following the treatment. It's recommended to do two 20 minute sessions weekly for six weeks. Over time, a patient's ability to cope with traumatic events improve as well. 

"It's training the brain not to go into an anxiety state, there is not one single medication out there that does that," Sylvester said.

Lewin says medication was not an option because she is active recovery. The treatment is approved for both children and adults but may require a referral from your primary doctor. Only providers that offer Alpha-Stim treatment can purchase a device. Patients wanting to purchase one on their own need a letter from their doctor.

The cost of the Alpha-Stim device can run between $800 to $1,3000 dollars and is not usually covered by most insurance plans. 

For more information about Alpha-Stim treatment, click here.

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