CEDAR RAPIDS — At times, Tourette syndrome has been an isolating experience for Jackie Nau.
Nau, a Cedar Rapids resident, often speaks publicly on her experience living with the disorder but says she still struggles with it.
“I still feel it,” said Jackie, who was diagnosed at age 22. “It’s still a lonely feeling to be in public or in a room knowing you are the only one doing that.”
Her husband, Dr. Scott Nau, a Mercy pediatrician who often works with children with the syndrome, agrees.
“Although it may not bother other people, it can still be disabling and incredibly anxiety-producing for the person with Tourette syndrome,” he said.
But a new therapy developed to reduce tics for those with Tourette syndrome may make a difference, the couple believe.
Dr. Nau has partnered with Ann Alliger, Mercy’s director of behavioral services, to offer a training course for mental and medical health professionals in the Cedar Rapids area on a therapy for Tourette syndrome called CBIT, or Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Tics.
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The session will take place 8 a.m. to noon Friday at Mercy Medical Center and will be hosted by Dr. Douglas Woods, a licensed psychologist and dean of the graduate school at Marquette University in Wisconsin.
Attendees will learn about tics and Tourette syndrome as well as methods to help patients reduce tics by identifying behaviors.
Event organizers hope the session will open the door to broader access to treatment for individuals with Tourette syndrome. A couple of providers in Iowa City are currently the only ones offering CBIT in the state, Scott Nau said.
“When we found out what high need there is, since there’s practically nothing in Iowa, this seemed like the perfect fit,” Jackie Nau said.
Attendance is free for Mercy Cedar Rapids and MercyCare employees, and costs $10 for non-employees requesting continuing education credits.
Registration is required. More information can be found on Mercy’s website.
Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics, according to the National Institutes of Health. Common tics include repetitive eye blinking, shoulder shrugging, repetitive throat-clearing or grunting sounds.
For people with tics that interfere with daily functions, there are medications available to suppress them. The National Institutes of Health says some are more effective than others, and all available drugs for Tourette syndrome have side affects.
But CBIT therapy offers treatment with no drugs with adverse side effects.
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According to the National Institutes of Health, recent studies on CBIT has found it is effective in reducing symptoms.
The behavioral therapy, commonly used for children, teaches individuals with Tourette syndrome how to be aware of their behavior and help them change that behavior “in a very careful and systematic way” by tailoring the therapy to each individual tic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jackie Nau said people with the syndrome experience a premonitory urge before the tic occurs, which she said induces anxiety if not relieved by letting the tic occur.
“It’s like trying to hold back a sneeze,” she said. “Or it’s like trying to hold your breath. It’s going to have to come out.”
Scott Nau said health care providers can help reduce the most intrusive tics over the course of several therapy sessions.
“As a child identifies the urge to have that tic, then they identify a competitive behavior that the child is instructed to implement,” Scott Nau said. “Once they learn how to do this, it makes that tic not occur.”
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