Brains in Training–NeurExpand Brain Center
By Christy Brudin
Memorizing facts. Taking tests. Playing games.
That’s what the attendees at NeurExpand Brain Center are doing. It may sound like they are in school, but they are in fact patients at a world-class brain fitness center that is putting scientific research into practice to improve memory and related brain functions.
NeurExpand’s Brain Fitness Program helps middle-aged and older individuals increase their brain size and prolong mental clarity. The program enhances the brain’s ability to change and adapt, called neuroplasticity, which helps protect the organ from the negative impacts of aging and allows it to recover more quickly in the event of illness or injury. In particular, the medical program focuses on growing and strengthening the region of the brain critical to short-term memory—called the hippocampus.
Based on peer-reviewed research, NeurExpand’s Brain Fitness Program is a unique treatment program staffed by leading neurologists. Dr. Majid Fotuhi, founder and Chief Medical Officer of the Center, developed the science-based treatment program in 2011 to help patients retrain their brains and reclaim their lives. The program is covered by Medicare and most major insurance providers.
A full-service neurology practice, NeurExpand has offices in Lutherville, Md., and Columbia, Md.—and plans to open a new clinic in Chevy Chase, Md. in May and to expand the practice to Northern Virginia and other sites in the near future.
One of NeurExpand’s patients, who asked to remain anonymous, is a 79-year-old man with a family history of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. When his daughter expressed concerns about his memory and recommended that he be evaluated by NeurExpand, he was enthusiastic. He wanted to avoid what felt like an inevitable future decline.
After initial testing, he was qualified for NeurExpand’s 12-week Brain Fitness Program. Now one month into the program, he has already achieved remarkable results. “They started me out with a list of maybe 15 words to remember. They taught me how to group them and use different devices to memorize them. The other day, I was able to memorize 50 words,” noted the patient.
“It feels so good,” he added. “It’s not like a normal medical approach, where you go to the doctor and get a medication or an injection. The focus on mental health is very important and helps you see that loss of cognitive function is not simply a part of aging.”
Sheila Durant, 67, is also feeling good. Just a few weeks into the Brain Fitness Program, the busy attorney is already seeing significant results. After initially retiring in 2011, Durant returned to work because she was bored and needed more mental stimulation. However, after returning to private practice, she quickly became overwhelmed by the workload.
After learning about Dr. Fotuhi’s groundbreaking research and treatment program, Durant decided to give it a try. “It was difficult in the beginning because it meant changing my habits, but the results were so radical,” she said. “My test grades started to improve, and I started getting cocky because I felt young again.”
The lifestyle changes that Dr. Fotuhi and his team of experts recommended helped Durant reduce her stress levels and lose 15 pounds. More importantly, the program has helped her enhance her focus and mental capacity. “I don’t feel 67 at all; I really feel 40, and I believe it’s all because of this program,” she concluded.
Due to the dramatic changes she has seen in just a short period of time, Durant is committed to sticking with the program for the long term. While she has noticed both mental and physical declines in a number of her peers, she is now confident that she can live a happy and full life in her 70s and beyond. “Just to assume that because you’re almost 70, you have to be the way our mothers and fathers were at 70 doesn’t make sense. This is the cutting edge, and you don’t have to get old,” she noted.
As Durant’s brain function improves, the experts at the Center continue to alter her treatment program to achieve additional enhancements. “Using neurofeedback, we can look at the brain activity and provide feedback to help it function better,” explained Dr. Fotuhi.
For instance, in Durant’s case, the doctors are using neurofeedback to help her control her anxiety and slow her brain activity. During this therapy, she uses her mind to move a balloon across a computer screen; the more she calms her mind, the more the balloon moves.
By practicing the act of calming her mind, Durant is both strengthening her brain and improving her overall health, according to Dr. Fotuhi. “We can really help people change their overall mindset from overwhelmed to calm, focused and happy,” he said.
Dr. Fotuhi was inspired to create the NeurExpand Brain Center after working extensively with aging and elderly stroke patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital during his neurology residency and fellowship. “I realized that a lot of people’s memory problems are actually because of a lack of sufficient blood flow to the brain,” he recalled. “People need to realize that the brain is an organ, like your heart, and there are things you can do every day to take care of it. Your brain has the highest amount of elasticity of all the organs in your body, and you can ruin it, or you can protect it.”
A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Fotuhi went on to receive his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine before starting his fellowship. His extensive knowledge of the intricacies and capabilities of the human brain led him to question the causes of memory loss among the elderly. He quickly realized that despite the overwhelming emphasis in the media and popular culture on Alzheimer’s disease, there are other significant causes of cognitive decline, including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes and vitamin deficiencies.
Dr. Fotuhi also recognized the enormous potential of the brain to respond to training and recover from prior neglect or mistreatment. “Even if you have abused your brain for two or three decades, three months of really intensive training can turn things around. You can clear the fog. You can calm your stress. You can become more focused. You can get more satisfaction out of life,” he said.
Once patients make the decision to come to the NeurExpand Brain Center, Dr. Fotuhi and his team develop a customized treatment program to address their specific cognitive challenges. Each patient is assigned a personal trainer, or Brain Coach. The program then starts with a comprehensive brain health evaluation, including an MRI, an EEG brain mapping, neurocognitive evaluation, blood tests and a sleep evaluation. Using this detailed information, the clinical team develops tailored treatment regimens for each patient. The custom programs can include memory training, cognitive therapy, neurofeedback therapy, medication changes, stress reduction therapies, and treatments for insomnia and sleep apnea.
The Brain Center’s ideal patient is between 45 and 90 years of age and experiencing memory loss but still functioning independently, Dr. Fotuhi explained. While the Center’s neurologists can care for patients with advanced Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, they achieve the best results with individuals who are experiencing memory problems, attention deficits, or a lack of confidence in their brain function, as well as patients who are suffering with side effects from a concussion, surgery or stroke.
“We help patients maximize the brain performance they already have and then we help them increase their overall brain capacity,” Dr. Fotuhi
explained. “We are literally helping people increase their brain volume, focusing on the parts of the brain that control thinking, problem solving and memory, and we can measure the results using MRIs.”
Since founding NeurExpand, Dr. Fotuhi has watched countless patients make remarkable turnarounds. Recently, he helped an 89-year-old man who was hallucinating and unable to walk when he came to the Center improve so dramatically that he is now able to hold conversations and walk without a cane. The man’s customized treatment program included modifications to his medications and his diet, in addition to cognitive treatments.
“These patients are not exceptions,” Dr. Fotuhi noted with pride. “The average person who goes through our program experiences amazing improvements. I watch this happen every day.”
For Dr. Fotuhi and his team at NeurExpand Brain Center, every day is filled with possibilities. Using their vast expertise and training, they are helping patients achieve positive results by focusing on the body’s most vital organ. They are changing lives by training brains.
Published: April 2014