A look is being taken at biofeedback therapy as a way to treat and prevent chronic illness in the aged at Dallas' University of Texas School of Allied Health Sciences.
Biofeedback is the term used to describe certain techniques which enable a person to become aware of and control physiologic responses that are ordinarily considered involuntary.
"Previous studies have shown that biofeedback is effective in reducing physical symptoms such as migraine headaches, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions," said Helen West, instructor in gerentology. "But there is very little in the medical literature-one or two isolated cases-about biofeedback training being given to older people," she continued.
More than 44 per cent, or approximately eight million, of those over 65 suffer from chronic diseases or disabilities. And in the next 50 years as the nation's demographic pattern shifts, those numbers will more than double.
Ms. West said she realized there was a need for a new therapy when she began working in nursing homes. "I have been looking for something ever since I became aware of the fact that nursing home residents take an average of five prescription drugs at a time, in addition to the over-the-counter drugs that they dose themselves with. I've seen more than one case of what is known as toxic psychosis caused by the drugs and it's devastating."
It was her search for a treatment not involving drugs which led her to biofeedback.
With biofeedback, Ms. West explained it is hoped that suffering in older people can be either prevented or alleviated by teaching them how to combat anxiety and depression and to relax physically. For example, if a person experiences severe tension headaches, he can be trained to recognize increasingly lower levels of muscle tension and thus learn to control the tension level by relaxation.
In her study, Ms. West is applying biofeedback training to a group of Dallas nursing home residents. They will participate in a series of six weekly biofeedback training sessions of about 30 minutes duration.