Brain Health

Trying Out Apple’s iOS Alex for Reading Rehab

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Apple has incorporated speaking into its iOS options for text. Enable Speech under General/Accessibility Settings on your iPhone or iPad, and then when you pull down with two fingers or select text and choose “Speak” from the pop-out menu, your voice of choice will speak the text on the page you’re viewing to you. You can adjust the volume and speed too. And, even better, you can choose to have Apple highlight each word as it’s spoken.

I thought this might be a good option for me, now that I’m speeding up my reading rate, and I don’t always want to read out loud myself. I also thought seeing each word highlighted as it’s spoken will keep my eyes on the word I’m reading instead of dancing off to the next word or line.I chose Alex as the voice because Apple indicates it’s the most natural and highest quality voice in their stable. Once I figured out how to use Alex (not all websites play nice because they need to allow you to select their text; some newspaper sites are more concerned about copyright than readability and accessibility — looking at you Wall Street Journal).

Once I did, I soon realized that at the slowest setting Alex sounded a little odd; worse, he still spoke too quickly for me. I can’t use Alex. Argh!

So yeah, my reading to retain and learn, to not get tired, and to not develop a headache is speeding up but is still super slow. The slog continues. I’ll try Alex again in a month or few.

Brain Biofeedback

Biofeedback, Technology, Blogging, and Fatigue

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I'm getting an iPhone. Hopefully, this year; they’re a tad in demand. I made this decision after weeks of building problems and one particularly frustrating set of days. One big problem I have is that I can write on my iPod Touch within the white noise of the subway but cannot post my draft to my blog until I get home because of the lack of free secure WiFi along my routes. Not usually a problem, but these days I’m exhausted by the time I open my front door, and as a result, my blogging has fallen off. With the iPhone, I wouldn’t have to keep updating this post that I draft en route but never post once home, for three weeks now. Not good.

Two weeks in a row, I wrote and then updated:

It really is nice being able to see letters, images, and colours on my iPod sharper after gamma brainwave biofeedback. I just wish the effect would last, and brain fatigue wouldn't turn things blurry.

I was fatigued after last week’s and this week’s session [“last week” and “this week” are now three and two weeks ago], but the training effect on my vision and perception held for awhile. I was aware of my surroundings in the way of how I used to be aware in the periphery while reading or listening to music and I didn't go sailing past my stop while drafting this post on my iPod; it was the second week in a row that I felt able to type while walking (tsk). Didn't do it though!

I was fatigued more than usual afterwards last week because I read for 15 minutes! Holy cow. I usually read for five.

In the usual way of things, I begin my biofeedback session with reading while my Wernicke’s area is being stimulated for 7 minutes, and I end with 5 minutes of reading while I'm connected to the computer via electrodes on the PZ area of my skull, on my thumb for heart, my finger for temperature, and belt for breathing.

I'd asked previously that, since I've begun my metaphysics course, if I could continue reading for a little while after my session was over so as to be under the immediate influence of training sans any deleterious effects of taking the TTC (my trainer alternates clients in different rooms so that while one is getting ready to leave, she can set the next one up, so no worries about holding up the next client). That was to start last week, but since she began to set the next client up as soon as she began the reading screen for me and that turned into 15 minutes, it sort of incorporated my extra reading into my reading biofeedback screen (this week it was as we’d intended; still needed a nap). That turned out better for me because I was receiving auditory feedback during the whole of my philosophy reading. The auditory feedback is like a white noise. As long as the gamma sailboat is chugging along and the busy brain and 16-19Hz sailboats are stalled on their virtual seas, the noise buzzes. That means whenever I heard it, I was producing gamma brainwaves while not falling into rumination or producing beta spindles. I heard it a lot. This was good. Also, my trainer crowed as soon as she saw my results. My muscle tension was low. Well, I said I was sitting still and upright, the biofeedback training position, reading a computer screen, wouldn't it be low like during the three-minute training screens? No! You were reading, she said, as if that explained it. Well, it was hard stuff. I did have to take a break by reading easy stuff, then I was able to return to reading the intro to the philosopher Quine. Still, I was physically still! Maybe, that’s the point: when reading, our bodies unconsciously work out what we’re reading. I don't know. I meant to ask for clarification this week but was consumed by my dying cell phone and iPod Touch (cell battery lasted years longer than the iPod but both decided to tank at same time).

My heart rate was 10 beats per minute lower than the previous week and ten beats lower again this week and so five minutes of writing got it down to the teens as in 118. And this week, five minutes got it down to 109. Relief! I hope this time the effect is permanent and keeps dropping my heart rate to normal territory!!

I did read a few minutes longer last week after she unhooked me from the computer to finish up something. I gulped down some water, demolished my snack bar, and was ready for coffee and food both last week and this. I'm not sure why but I'm much hungrier after my gamma sessions than I have been in a long time. Oh yeah, new location, new brain area being woken up. Well, duh.

Brain Biofeedback

Problems with Time Management? Use The Devices Jobs Gave Us

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I hear people with ADD have a problem with time and showing up to appointments on time, just like people with brain injury. The solution is to get an iPod Touch or smartphone with a decent calendar app, stick a claxon alarm on it (like my therapist did the first day she worked with me – my choice in alarms was too nice apparently), and maybe put on two or three alarms. So both visually and auditorially, you're “told” get to your appointment now. That so many people with ADD and/or brain injury don't do that works to my advantage and sometimes not.

That’s because when people use the devices and alarms half-heartedly or not at all, they show up at the start of their appointment about thirty percent of the time, I'm told, or are very late much of the time, or show up five minutes before the end of their appointment, or not at all. That means statistically, I can expect most of the time to have an extra few minutes after my appointment with my brain biofeedback trainer as I pick her brain about something I need help with or need to understand while she waits for the next client to show up. When clients are that late, I can infer they have ADD or brain injury (or both) and don’t have a parent or spouse dragging them to the appointment.

On the down side, when it happens with my doctor, it’s usually the person showing up right at the end of their appointment and at the start of mine and then taking up ten minutes of my session. Not okay. I’ve decided if they can't use the tools available to them to get to their appointments on time, they get a big fat “no!” from me the next time they say it'll just be five minutes. First off, like hell it will be. And second, that's my time you’re taking. I made the effort to get there on time (and believe me, effort is the right word), so why should someone who didn't bust their gut to make it on time get to take my time from me? And no, the doc didn't extend the end of my appointment when those things happened.

And so that’s the lesson brought home to me this week: if you want help, it isn't sufficient to find a doc or psychologist and make appointments to see them. You actually have to assume responsibility for getting out the door on time (even on those days you really really don't want to, of which I've had plenty) and for doing the homework they give you, and to not expect the medical professional to do all the work for you. Getting better is a mutual affair in which the professional does their job (and if they don't, tell them or find another), and you do yours. Yes, there will be days you fall down, but a seventy-percent fall-down rate, especially when well into therapy, makes me wonder about how serious these guys are about getting better. I admire the patience of professionals who continue to make appointments with them, even send them weekly reminder emails, knowing not much is going to change. One wonders how hard it must be for the professionals to keep up their energy to do their best when their best makes no difference.

And as for me, before I began brain biofeedback, I misread the time on my watch or diary all the time, I had no sense of how much time was passing, and I didn't care if I was late (sooo not me). And so I bought a Handspring device because I needed the auditory alarm to get around my visual perception difficulties. Every now and then, I would think, hey, I'm okay now, I don't need to alarm every single task and appointment. Ha! Yes, it was frustrating and annoying to have alarms go off every day to remind me of things from eating to seeing the acupuncturist, but the alternative was to lead a less functional life. I did give myself Sunday off because on that day I could be as non-functional as I wanted to be and it wouldn’t matter.

Only now, after all my various treatments is it true that I do not need to alarm every last thing. However, I still set alarms on my appointments, sometimes two for infrequent or one-off appointments because that's the way I roll. I rarely alarm tasks, but I check my calendar or try to frequently. Ahem. It doesn't matter so much if I miss a task though because the only one affected is me.

But on gamma brainwave biofeedback day, I was reminded of the fact that I still need to think actively about travel times. The TTC seems to have slowed down again, and I need to add five minutes on to my trip again. I hate that, but I hate being late more. Sigh.