Gary Tetz

Sometimes an intriguing long-term care headline catches my eye, and I click to the article eager to discover more, only to feel hoodwinked and swindled by a failure to deliver the goods. Such was the case when I happened upon the following brain-trapping banner crafted by the good people of McKnight’s.


As I read this, my overactive imagination conjured up a therapy situation involving a pink feather boa, seductively administered by a velvet-voiced supermodel into my auditory canal. Oh, and it would also make me live forever and is reimbursable under PDPM. 

But the photo that ran with the article communicated something entirely different. It was just a guy with electrodes clipped to his ear, receiving a painless electrical current. The concept turns out to be about as enticing as plugging in the vacuum cleaner. Useful perhaps, but far from the provocative promise of the headline.

But let’s move past that, and talk about the science. 

As I’m sure we’re all well aware, the skin of the outer ear has a connection to the body’s vagus nerve, and what happens there stays there. Apparently, through gentle transcutaneous stimulation of said nerve, the study participants demonstrated “increased parasympathetic activity and decreased sympathetic activity.” I guess that was good news to the scientists, even though decreased sympathetic activity caused the demise of my last relationship. 

The point being that researchers believe this electrical ear-tickling can affect the body’s metabolic balance, and potentially help counteract the effects of aging on the nervous system. Some volunteers even reported better sleep, which is amazing, as I’m not sure I could drift off while being slowly electrocuted. 

All in all it’s pretty exciting. But it would be irresponsible of me not to note that this research is still in its infancy, involving only 29 British volunteers, a large portion of whom probably voted for Brexit.

So, yes, we probably should resist the urge to immediately rush outside and attach jumper cables to our earlobes — for now.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.