The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1012: What to Do About a Ghost in Your Brain

Clark Elliott knew the ghost of his former self could be retrieved, even after a severe head injury. Find out how he did it.
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What to Do About a Ghost in Your Brain

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Head injuries are all too common, affecting millions of Americans every year. They can result in brain injury if the brain gets jostled inside the skull. This can be a problem even if the incident did not result in a loss of consciousness (a “blackout”). Around 5,000 people daily experience a concussion as a result of head injury.

How Can You Tell If a Bump on the Head Caused Lasting Damage?

Sometimes it can be hard to assess the impact of such an accident, whether it was due to slipping on the ice or getting rear-ended in a car. The standard medical tools don’t always reveal the true extent and nature of a head injury. If people continue to have difficulties with balance or cognitive tasks long after such an event, conventional medical wisdom holds that they just have to learn to adapt to their deficits. But what if that dogma is mistaken? Is there anything that can be done to help a person overcome impairment due to brain injury many years later?

Dr. Clark Elliott tells about his amazing experience of recovering from a severe concussion from which he had sustained apparently permanent damage. Learn what approaches helped him overcome the severe impairment he had suffered for many years, and listen to the therapists who made such a difference in his life.

This Week’s Guests:

Clark Elliott, PhD, is professor of artificial intelligence at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. He is the author of The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back. His website is

Donalee Markus, PhD, is a specialist in neuro-cognitive restructuring who practices clinically applied neuroscience. She creates instruments that maximize intelligence and catalyze creativity using clinically applied neuroscience. Her website is

Deborah Zelinsky, OD, FNORA, FCOVD (Optometric Doctor, Fellow of the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association, Fellow of the College of Visual Development), is a neuro-optometrist who specializes in bridging the gap between neuroscience research and eye care. To find a practitioner of neuro-optometry, consult the website:

Other websites of interest: The Society for Neuroscience (

And the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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was wondering if the EMDR therapy would be connected in any way to the treatment?

I listened to today’s guest and gave a nervous laugh at the fact that i share many of his symptoms and of those with head injuries for many years now. I wondered if a brain infection could also cause such symptoms? What about the effectiveness of the therapies on people with PTSD who have executive functioning issues, but are otherwise “normal”? I “lost” my executive functioning approximately 7-8 years ago,(hindsight) becoming unable to complete Algebra formulas(“A” to Failing student in 3 months after 2 years of high performance return to school) and had a mild heart attack(stress induced, no definitive cause or physical damage) and 6 months later an aneurism/embolism(something “popped” inside my skull/sinuses and there was internal bleeding) associated with a severe sinus/dental infection that was near my brain with extensive necrotic tissue, several micro surgeries to remove/correct followed by months of physical healing/rehab, and the psychological/cognitive continues daily. The infection was undetected but present for many months prior. This coincided with a traumatic physical attack on me by a person with a gun that altered my life considerably.

Daily struggle to function cognitively, brain seems constantly overwhelmed with tasks once regular and basic. Too much light and sound at the wrong times can completely short circuit my perception to the point of vertigo; also certain geometric configurations of environment, doorways and peripheral vision stimulus. Driving now takes my FULL attention, rain on the glass is very confusinng. Additional Repetitive example: I have 7 keys on a keyring for locks I have used thousands of times, each key is very unique relative to the others, which I had to do purposely to sort them. I will often stare transfixed for several seconds at a door or lock completely baffled at what to do with these “things” in my hand that I know I should know. Feel like my brain does not have enough RAM, and like I am watching someone else fumbling around for their keys. Have to put keys away, close my eyes or look away, and “try again” sometimes to figure out what to do and which one to use. Very frustrating, and a bit frightening. Brain easily overworked and can take several days of rest to recover after using it for long periods of time for work and even studying, reading, or other stimulus once easily done. Computers and televisions are intolerable most of the time, way too much stimulus!! Mental retention is horrible, I forget the morning by afternoon sometimes, and if reminded, it literally seems like months or years in the past.

I do home remodeling/renovation, and the linear aspect of that trade is absolutely mind-blowing at times. Just trying to figure out the next step in a process done many times before is like trying to do a mathematical formula. The actual work is easy once my brain figures out which tool to use, as a box filled with tools can shut it down trying to figure out what a screwdriver is. Often have 3 or 4 projects going at once, as I “forgot” I was working on the others. More issues early in the day, less at night. I am a person with above average intelligence who once made a good living doing money market trading, which my mind no longer comprehends completely so I stopped trading.

Some days I am totally fine. Otherwise mostly healthy, bit arthritic for my age, no drug, plenty sleep, eat healthy, exercise/relax regularly, 44yo white male who no one suspects can’t figure out how to start his car sometimes(often). I have severely isolated myself socially in the last 5 years, as this “condition” is embarrassing, and people make terrible assumptions about you. Any thoughts appreciated.

Very informative and helpful to me since I’ve done some research on football and brain damage, wrote a letter to the editor about it, have given a couple of talks on the topic, and have bugged the local school district to take this issue more seriously.

WOW I am with you; couldn’t have said it better!!

I just listened to your show and would like to know if there is any help for people who have suffered brain injury from stroke and aneurysm as your guests talked about concussion. My sister survived two aneurysm operations 3 years ago at the UVa. hospital in Charlottesville h, one year later she had 2 strokes. She had no lasting physical problems which was amazing, but now she is plagued with depression which has changed her life and personality dramatically. Do you know if there is any help?
Thanks so much for your weekly program. My Sat. morning revolves around your NPR 7 am program which is always so well done and stimulating.

As a result of listening to this show, I am now in vision therapy to resolve symptoms from a concussion I suffered 2 years ago. I met another patient at my neuro-optometrist’s office who has the same symptoms I have, but she suffered a series of strokes. I think it is definitely worth it for stroke patients to look into neuro-optometry as one possible treatment

This program was excellent. My 20 year old son still has issues from football concussions when he was in high school. I also would like to ask, as a 1 year breast cancer survivor, can these strategies help my chemo brain? Thank you.

I suffered a severe head injury when I was 16, I am 56 now. I have ADD that inhibits me from doing a lot of things I would really like to do.

Any suggestions?


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