In the often-conformist domain of mainstream medicine, it’s rare to find an organization born of the maverick ideas of one man.
Now meet Frederick Robert “Ted” Carrick and his literal brainchild, the Cerebrum Health Centers (formerly known as Carrick Brain Centers).
A Toronto-born chiropractor with a Ph.D. in neurophysiological education, Carrick decades ago became disenchanted with the usual treatments for serious nervous system ailments and brain injuries, which prescribed either drugs, surgery or both. He knew there had to be a less invasive, less drug-centric solution.
As Carrick started building his first practice some 35 years ago, he called on his experiences with manipulation and chiropractic treatments, and his doctorate in neurophysiology, to launch a novel approach to improving the quality of life for those ailing from concussions, Parkinson’s, autism, stroke and Alzheimer’s-related dementia.
From the first set of patients Carrick saw in his initial practice in New Hampshire, the methodology has gradually grown in renown. Today his burgeoning empire comprises two Cerebrum Health Centers—a hub near Atlanta and a companion facility outside Dallas—with plans for future centers from sea to shining sea and possible European locations as well. There is also the Carrick Institute of Graduate Studies, which currently has 5,000 physicians and medical professionals enrolled in master’s-level programs in neurology and attending courses in 28 extension facilities across the globe.
“We can keep all these parts going,” Carrick says, “because we’re blessed in being able to attract the cream of the cream of personnel. We hire them not only for their superb credentials but also for their concern and dedication to serving humankind.”
Lately, publicity has found Carrick, as his clinics have been the subject of network and cable news reports and even part of a PBS documentary. Not all of the accounts have been entirely positive, with some raising questions about the scientific credibility of Carrick’s alternative approach. True scientific advancements must be verified through long-term study, not patient testimonials, critics say. But Carrick counters those concerns.
“Everything we do is based on scientific evidence,” Carrick says. “We use the same exercises others use, the same diagnostic parameters, but we differ in how we combine them. A lot of people can make a soufflé using the same eggs, butter and flour, but some come out more delicious than others. We use the very same ingredients everyone else does, but with our recipe, it comes out from the oven in a very special manner.” Fit for medical journals or not, the testimonials are indeed powerful.
A main driver of Carrick’s suddenly elevated profile is CEO Ken Beam. His personal connection to Carrick began in 2012 when his then-7-year-old daughter, Jordan, who suffered from various learning disabilities, underwent a Carrick-inspired treatment. Beam was ecstatic with the results. “We were so gratified by my daughter’s improvement,” Beam says. “My next reaction after meeting Dr. Carrick was: Why doesn’t the world know more about this? We had to take this amazing boot camp for the brain to the world.” Carrick plans to open seven to 10 clinics in 2014 and a total of 35 new clinics in the next three years.
Carrick’s concentration on alternative brain rehabilitation aimed especially at concussion victims has placed him at the center of one of the country’s most visible current health concerns. Recently the NFL has admitted that players throughout its history suffered concussions with potentially devastating long-term effects. And over the last decade, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have sent home soldiers suffering from a variety of brain traumas.
“The old way of treating them—with rest and letting things heal on their own—hasn’t worked out so well,” Carrick says. “Serious concussions don’t get better with rest. And that’s when they end up with us.”
When patients come to Carrick, their brains have literally been jostled around by trauma or damaged through a slowly degenerative condition such as Alzheimer’s. When the brain has been shaken up, the communication and nerve network between it and various other bodily structures becomes stretched, distorted or injured—signals that normally transmit from one nerve to another don’t get through clearly.
In general, Cerebrum Health Centers deal with patients whose injured brains prevent them from performing any number of normal functions and provoke a menu of unpleasant side effects, from vertigo to memory lapses, severe sensitivity to light and noise, headaches, and even emotional or behavioral problems.
So as a center first begins to treat an injured brain, its underlying philosophy is that the brain is like moldable plastic and that various Carrick treatment programs can help remold it to perform certain functions as reflexively as before the injury or condition. In doing that, Cerebrum Health Centers often focuses on treating the damaged fundamental links between the brain, vision and balance.
“When your brain is injured,” Carrick says, “you can’t keep your eyes on a subject without moving them constantly. So part of our therapy is to get a patient to lock in on a subject while moving his head from side to side and while the target is moving at different speeds and in different directions.” This forces change in the brain. “We go back to… basic sensory responses and simulate them as if the patient was a baby all over again. It’s as if they were going from walking to running to trying out a swing or a teeter-totter for the first time.”
Another initial step in the Carrick treatment is to videotape patients lying, standing, walking, running or playing their particular sport, because underlying so many of Carrick’s recommended treatments is that they link virtually every brain injury to balance problems. In essence, if people have hurt their heads but can stand up and move quite well, Carrick won’t need to treat them at all. But if a patient is showing one of the basic effects of a traumatic brain injury, meaning balance and equilibrium problems, then Carrick’s primary area of focus is the inner ear.
“If you have hurt your balance system inside your brain, you need to stimulate it to get it better, and that means we need to do a very calculated and precise vestibular, or inner ear, rehabilitation,” Carrick says.
One of Carrick’s notable rehabilitative treatments targets hair cells on top of the inner ear. Normally, crystals of calcium carbonate sit on top of those hair cells. A traumatic jarring of the head not only shakes loose those crystals from their perch, but the hair cells themselves—absolutely vital for equilibrium and balance—get deformed. The bending of those hair cells communicates to the brain that the head is being moved in a certain direction when, in fact, it is stable. And the calcium carbonate crystals, dislodged from the hair cells, simply sit inside the inner ear and can be the cause of issues from dizziness or nausea, to total disequilibrium. Carrick specialists place the patient on a special, movable table where it is easy to then shift his head and body in certain directions at certain speeds, to reposition those calcium carbonate crystals to where they should rest in the inner ear, thereby gradually restoring a patient’s vital equilibrium.
Surely one of the most eye-popping and singular pieces of therapeutic equipment that Cerebrum Health Centers created is the Off-Vertical Axis Rotation Device, or “The Carrick Chair,” as it has come to be known in some neurology circles. Resembling a NASA training instrument, this straight-back chair is housed inside a large spinning mechanism. Costing around $110,000 to manufacture, according to Carrick, The Chair’s essential effectiveness is that its speed, direction and angle can be adjusted as it whirls a patient around.
“The Chair can stimulate the inner ear and the entire visual system connected to it,” Carrick says. “The Chair also identifies the motion that, let’s say, an injured athlete can’t do without getting sick to his stomach.”
About 10 percent of Carrick patients suffer from Alzheimer’s. Realizing that the frontal lobe of the brain—the part controlling eye movements and the part that often degenerates most with Alzheimer’s—might benefit the most from stimulation, Carrick asks Alzheimer’s patients to watch a specific computer simulation. On that screen, a patient follows a bouncing red ball, tracking it to all parts of the screen. “It’s all about making the frontal lobe, through the stimulation of the patient’s eyes, become more stimulated,” Carrick says, adding that another virtue of these exercises is that a patient can continue the therapy at home on his own computer screen.
As Alzheimer’s patients progressively get worse, they do less physical activity, and thus their inner ear area receives less stimulation. “We know that the balancing inner ear system is one of the most dramatic activators of the brain as a whole,” Carrick says. “So because an Alzheimer’s patient is not stimulating that inner ear system nearly enough—through walking or other exercise—we put that patient in our Chair to do it for them, in a way they simply could never do themselves. If we rotate an Alzheimer’s patient in The Chair at a certain degree, they will be able to stand up and walk better. It gives them, and their families, so much more hope.”
After a Carrick patient has been through many treatments, especially involving The Chair, one of the most tangible signs of progress is to have a patient stare at a target without his eyes moving from side to side, or up and down—the kind of steady gaze that is a positive sign. By getting a patient to examine a target, Carrick measures any eye movement and then takes other balance-related measurements such as walking speed, gait analysis, how long it takes a patient to get out of a chair—even analyzing speech and memory—to see if the therapy has improved those functions.
To be sure, Carrick’s intense therapy doesn’t end with a patient’s visit to one of its centers. In fact, a hallmark of Carrick’s treatment is not only its relatively short duration—with a patient usually undergoing one intense week of office treatments—but that Carrick will prescribe and monitor weeks to months of individualized home-based therapeutic exercises and dietary recommendations.
“We can examine the patient, virtually, in his home,” Carrick says. “We can ask the patient to do certain things during a Skype interview. As the patient gets better, he will go from touching base with us from once a week to once a month, to once every six months, to only when they need us.
“One of our primary goals is to have patients not need us…. We want them to be as autonomous as possible. Our primary goal is to give them back their lives.”