Army advances PTSD, other cognitive research through latest partnership

From U.S. Army Research Laboratory

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Helius Medical Technologies, Inc. have partnered to expand on early research that could mean new interventions for improving military readiness and resilience, as well as reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

As part of a cooperative research and development agreement, ARL and Helius are launching a research program to investigate Helius’ Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator for the enhancing cognitive and psychological readiness and response through mindfulness meditation training. Helius is focused on neurological wellness.

Researchers from both organizations will combine the use of the neuromodulator with mindfulness meditation training and assess participants’ neurocognitive performance and self-reported symptoms before and after training.

A soldier practices meditation to relieve stress. Photo courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rice

ARL is studying the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR, and other forms of mindfulness meditation among Soldiers and veterans. ARL’s Dr. Valerie Rice, chief of the Army Medical Department Field Element at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said early research demonstrates that active duty service members and military veterans who complete MBSR training achieve results that positively affect a service member’s readiness.

“Our research to date has focused on a sample of U.S. active duty service members and veterans, who are not necessarily patients, in order to determine whether meditation training might be helpful for our troops,” Rice said. “Our results have shown practical and clinically relevant reductions in PTSD symptoms, as measured by the PTSD Checklist — Military Version.”

The studies have also shown that those who complete mindfulness training, whether taught in-person or online in a virtual world, achieve significant decreases in stress, anxiety, daytime sleepiness, pain, and symptoms of inattention associated with attention deficit disorder, as well as increased energy and vigor, she said. In addition, those who score higher in mindfulness show quicker decision making speed and fewer errors on sustained visual and auditory performance tasks, than those with lower mindfulness scores.

During mindfulness meditation, individuals learn to focus their attention first on what is occurring in the present moment, and as they gain skill in doing so, they can begin to focus their attention on what they choose to pay attention to, rather than having their mind jump from one topic to another.

Through the meditation process, their mind begins to quiet and they also begin to see and understand their own motivations, communications, actions, and relationships more clearly, Rice said. They can then appropriately alter their approach in all aspects of their lives, in order to achieve their goals and the mission to which they are assigned. They can be fully present in whatever task or assignment they are given, without having their mind wander unnecessarily. Confidence and performance both improve under these conditions.

Rice refers to this as “developing internal situational awareness.”

“We are delighted to be collaborating with Dr. Valerie Rice and the team at the Army Research Laboratory and are looking forward to launching the clinical investigation evaluating whether the PoNS can augment the effects of MBSR training,” said Dr. Jonathan Sackier, chief medical officer at Helius. “Addressing issues such as post-traumatic stress and sleep disorders is a major problem not only in the military, but the civilian population in the wake of terrorist attacks, natural and other disasters.”