Biofeedback equipment helping IVH residents

Retired U.S. Army Capt. Richard Kresser of Tacoma, Wash., successfully completed numerous missions stateside and in Afghanistan throughout his military career.

One was running across Iowa last July, sometimes in brutal heat and humidity, to raise money for new biofeedback equipment at Marshalltown’s Iowa Veterans Home.

Kresser not only became one of two athletes to ever successfully run across the state utilizing a RAGBRAI route, he raised approximately $20,000 online from supporters throughout the United States.

The fruits of Kresser’s labor were in full view last week at IHV, as staff from the facility’s mental health services department rolled out new, state of the art biofeedback equipment, which was purchased from Kresser’s donation.

Kresser, a Raymond native, participated via conference call.

Explaining the equipment to him and the role it has played serving IVH residents were Dr. Doug Steenblock, chief of Mental Health Services, associate Kate Junk, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and biofeedback program coordinator, and Mike Luttrell, an associate and licensed psychologist.

The mental health unit purchased two high quality levels of equipment, said Junk. One is a consumer oriented software Relaxing Rhythms by Wild Divine, and the other is a professional grade device, NeXus 10 from the Stens Corp.

With some training a patient can use “Relaxing Rhythms,” and soon IVH will have two stations set up for patients to use at their discretion.

The NeXus 10 is sophisticated, and is used exclusively by medical professionals.

To make the most efficient use of all the equipment, Junk and Luttrell completed a 50-credit hour course, and consulted with other Iowa psychologists who provide biofeedback training.

“I’m pleased IVH invested in the best equipment and training available,” Kresser said.

The staff explained to him the many varieties of anxiety and stress that residents experience – ranging from combat memories to day-to-day situations – and how the equipment has given them a valuable new tool to better treat the disorders.

Junk said chronic stress and anxiety have similar physiological impacts on the body.

When one experiences anxiety or stress, the natural response is to fight or flee the individual, group, or situation causing the stress.

This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response.

“When someone’s ‘fight or flight’ response is initiated by stress or anxiety, they begging to breath more quickly, their muscles tense, blood pressure elevates, pupils dilate and the individual becomes hyper-alert,” said Junk. “Essentially the body gathering its resources and readying itself to either fight or flee the stressor. While the initial response doesn’t cause any damage to the body, a stress response that is sustained for too long over time does damage.”

Junk said that sustained stress can lead to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, suppressed immune functioning, diminished memory and problem solving skills and sleep deprivation among other maladies, as the body resources have been gathered to deal with fight or flight.

Kresser was told by the staff, that the new equipment enables the patient to learn how to change physiological processes, such as heart rate and muscle tension.

“Biofeedback instruments measure physiological activity such as breathing, muscle tension, skin temperature, heart rate and more, and then this information is rapidly and accurately “fed back” to the patient either in a visual or auditory format,” said Junk. “The immediate awareness of how a physiological system is functioning and changing, moment to moment, enables the individual to learn to make corrections if the level isn’t optimal.”

Some of the feedback give visual feedback helps patients slower their breathing.

Luttrell and Junk described several cases of residents who were at one time struggling with anxiety and depression, and how sessions on the equipment have made them feel better.

“One of things I’ve observed of patients using the equipment is that they more quickly realize what is going on inside of them,” he said. “Many folks don’t realize they are stressed out until they have a headache, or snapping at the kids, or other people. When someone sees how stress is affecting them, they learn how to quickly deal with it faster and more efficiently. They have, from this equipment, learned a skill and how to apply it.”

Kresser said he is looking forward to seeing the equipment in person, and hopes to make a visit to IVH the next time he is in Iowa visiting his parents in Raymond.

“I’m thrilled to know the equipment is up and running, and has already benefited patients at IVH,” he said.

Kresser said he retired from the Army several months ago, and is planning a career as a outdoor adventure guide and ultra-marathon trainer in Washington state.

Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or