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The Minneapolis VA is testing a medical app to combat PTSD nightmares
The brainchild of a Macalester College graduate to help his father overcome combat-related nightmares has turned into a promising — but still experimental — medical app that is being tested by the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.
Called NightWare, the app is loaded onto an Apple watch, where it learns to track the pulse rates and biometric readings of wearers when they have nightmares. Once trained, the app instructs the watch to buzz lightly, rousing sleepers from their nightmares without fully waking them.
While dreams and even nightmares can play legitimate roles in physical and mental health, they can become "pathological" and "disruptive" to people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, said Grady Hannah, chief executive of NightWare, a Minneapolis med-tech firm that is developing the app as a medical device.
"These people, when they're having nightmares due to PTSD, they're reliving the worst experiences in their life," he said. "They're in dysphoric states. They're generally miserable."
PTSD, a condition in which sufferers relive past emotional traumas, has been found at higher rates in soldiers and military veterans, including members of the Minnesota National Guard who served prolonged tours in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist bombings. Screenings immediately after deployments found PTSD symptoms in nearly 5% of active-duty soldiers but nearly 13% of National Guard and reserve unit soldiers.
Treatment typically involves intensive therapy — including exposure sessions that try to get sufferers to recall traumas without feeling the pain of those moments — but there has been little specifically designed to treat PTSD-associated nightmares. Hannah said that's a significant gap, considering that disrupted sleep has been linked to a variety of health problems and increased risk of suicide attempts.
That treatment gap prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to grant special "breakthrough" status to NightWare last month to hasten it through the approval process and to the marketplace.
This month the Minneapolis VA reported that 31 veterans had tried the device, and 85% reported improved sleep within one month. Now VA researchers are starting a trial that will compare veterans who receive buzzes from the watch when they are having nightmares with veterans whose watches simply silently track their pulse and sleep data.
Buzzing and alarm technology has already been used in commercial products to address sleep-related problems, including bed-wetting for children, and in products that didn't receive FDA approval as medical devices.
Hannah said the FDA deemed NightWare a medical device requiring research and approval, to prove that it is effective and safe, which will ultimately increase trust in the system and make it eligible for coverage by health insurance.
"There have been lots of companies that have tried to create consumer treatments that never made it, because marketing direct to consumers takes a lot of money," Hannah said. "And you can't make any medical claims" without research and federal approval to back them up.
NightWare was originally created at a 2015 hackathon technology innovation contest in Washington D.C., by a 21-year-old Macalester student named by Tyler Skluzacek.
Skluzacek had come to learn about PTSD because of his father's struggles following his overseas deployment in 2006.
"He just hit absolute rock bottom," Skluzacek told the Star Tribune in 2015. "He was just depressed and angry and every emotion you can think of that has nothing to do with happy."
Hannah, an entrepreneur and Silicon Valley veteran, read the Star Tribune account and contacted Skluzacek, who now attends graduate school at the University of Chicago, to begin developing the app for use as a medical device.
Hannah is guarded about discussing the benefits of NightWare until the VA research data comes in, but some early test users have called it life-changing.
Justin Miller suffered PTSD after returning home to South Carolina from two deployments in Iraq as part of a sniper team. He had constant nightmares evoking memories of being injured by an explosive device, seeing soldiers die, or being left by his unit in a building and having to fight his way out to avoid capture.
Miller said he would wake in a sweat with a racing pulse. Sometimes he would be flailing about and elbowing his wife. He rarely slept more than four hours per night, he added.
After trying the app in January, Miller said he started sleeping through the night almost immediately. He's had about a dozen nightmares since then, on the nights when he left the watch off his wrist and on the charging station.
Miller said he's drastically reduced his consumption of energy drinks, melatonin to help with sleep, and even his antidepressant dosage.
"Once I started sleeping, it's amazing how much the rest of my life changed," he said. "I have more patience with people. I am able to keep my cool, most of the time.
"I didn't know [sleep] was possible for me anymore. It hadn't happened in 12 to 13 years."
©2019 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Moments before Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia went back into the house, journalist Michael Ware said he was "pacing like a caged tiger ... almost like he was talking to himself."
"I distinctly remember while everybody else had taken cover temporarily, there out in the open on the street — still exposed to the fire from the roof — was David Bellavia," Ware told Task & Purpose on Monday. "David stopped pacing, he looked up and sees that the only person still there on the street is me. And I'm just standing there with my arms folded.
"He looked up from the pacing, stared straight into my eyes, and said 'Fuck it.' And I stared straight back at him and said 'Fuck it,'" Ware said. "And that's when I knew, we were both going back in that house."
Former Army Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn will plead not guilty to a charge of murder for allegedly shooting an unarmed Afghan man whom a tribal leader had identified as a Taliban bomb maker, his attorney said.
Golsteyn will be arraigned on Thursday morning at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Phillip Stackhouse told Task & Purpose.
No date has been set for his trial yet, said Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a spokesman for U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
John Wick is back, and he's here to stay. It doesn't matter how many bad guys show up to try to collect on that bounty.
With John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, the titular hitman, played by 54-year-old Keanu Reeves, continues on a blood-soaked hyper-stylized odyssey of revenge: first for his slain dog, then his wrecked car, then his destroyed house, then ... well, honestly it's hard to keep track of exactly what Wick is avenging by this point, or the body count he's racked up in the process.
Though we do know that the franchise has raked in plenty of success at the box office: just a week after it's May 17 release, the third installment in director Chad Stahleski's series took in roughly $181 million, making it even more successful than its two wildly popular prequels 2014's John Wick, and 2017's John Wick: Chapter 2.
And, more importantly, Reeves' hitman is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest action movie heroes in recent memory. Few (if any) other action flicks have succeeded in creating a mind-blowing avant garde ballet out of a dozen well-dressed gunmen who get shot, choked, or stabbed with a pencil by a pissed off hitman who just wants to return to retirement.
But for all the over-the-top acrobatics, fight sequences, and gun-porn (see: the sommelier), what makes the series so enthralling, especially for the service members and vets in the audience, is that there are some refreshing moments of realism nestled under all of that gun fu. Wrack your brain and try to remember the last time you saw an action hero do a press check during a shootout, clear a jam, or actually, you know, reload, instead of just hip-firing 300 rounds from an M16 nonstop. It's cool, we'll wait.
As it turns out, there's a good reason for the caliber of gun-play in John Wick. One of the franchise's secret weapons is a professional three-gun shooter named Taran Butler, who told Task & Purpose he can draw and hit three targets in 0.67 seconds from 10 yards. And if you've watched any of the scores of videos he's uploaded to social media over the years, it's pretty clear that this isn't idle boasting.
The Navy's electromagnetic railgun is undergoing what officials described as "essentially a shakedown" of critical systems before finally installing a tactical demonstrator aboard a surface warship, the latest sign that the once-beleaguered supergun may actually end up seeing combat.
That pretty much means this is could be the last set of tests before actually slapping this bad boy onto a warship, for once.
The Justice Department has accused Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) of illegally using campaign funds to pay for extramarital affairs with five women.
Hunter, who fought in the Iraq War as a Marine artillery officer, and his wife Margaret were indicated by a federal jury on Aug. 21, 2018 for allegedly using up to $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use.
In a recent court filing, federal prosecutors accused Hunter of using campaign money to pay for a variety of expenses involved with his affairs, ranging from a $1,008 hotel bill to $7 for a Sam Adams beer.