Opinion

Latimer: Behavioural treatment for Tourette’s

The trademark vocal and physical tics of Tourette syndrome come quickly to mind when this condition is mentioned.

When characterized in movies or books, the person with Tourette’s is usually shown yelling out involuntary obscenities in embarrassing public situations.

In rare cases Tourette syndrome does manifest this way, but the symptoms can range from fairly minor distractions to very disruptive interruptions in regular functioning.

Tourette’s is a neuropsychiatric disorder that typically begins in childhood and includes multiple physical tics as well as at least one vocal tic.  Many youth with this condition eventually outgrow their tics, but some do not.

For those whose tics continue into adulthood, antipsychotic medications can be helpful in minimizing the symptoms, but these can result in undesirable side effects.

This is why the results of a study out of Harvard Medical School are so encouraging.

The study examined a therapy known as comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics (CBIT) and found it effective.

CBIT involves several strategies to help patients minimize their tic symptoms.

Training patients to be aware of their tics and find ways to counter them with different behaviours.

For the study, published in the August 2012 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, 122 adults with Tourette tics were split into two groups.

One group received eight sessions of CBIT while the other received a different supportive treatment.

Tic symptoms were evaluated at the study start, halfway through and again at the end.

Participants who received CBIT therapy experienced significantly greater decreases in their tic severity during the study than those who did not receive CBIT.

More than one-third had improved or very much improved compared with only six per cent of those who did not receive the CBIT therapy.

An earlier study of this form of therapy in children showed even better results and researchers believe this is because adults experiencing Tourette tics are dealing with a more chronic case of the condition that is likely more difficult to treat.

More research is planned to gain a more complete understanding as to why this promising treatment is effective, but it is certainly good news to find that there is an available treatment that can offer good results to adults still experiencing Tourette symptoms.

The surprising thing about his development is that these treatment techniques are not new.

They have been applied to other behavioural habits for at least three decades.

Tourette’s has always been regarded as something neurological and therefore beyond the reach of behavioural techniques. Apparently this is not the case.

If you’d like to see more details about this study, you can find them at www. archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1307556.

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