Neurofeedback: forging a better brain

What is neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a form of cognitive training that uses real-time displays of brain activity to help subjects observe and adjust brain function. Most commonly, neurofeedback is used as a form of training to help people suffering from neurological disorders, like ADHD, manage their symptoms. Electroencephalography (EEG) is often used, projecting brain waves via visual or auditory feedback while the subject performs a task. The subject can then attempt to alter the signature brain activity of his or her disorder, essentially training the brain to function correctly. The sessions are non-invasive: users wear an EEG headset while they perform a videogame-like task that provides the feedback. Neurofeedback can be used as both a complement to and a replacement for other treatments.

neurofeedback

Neurofeedback and ADHD

ADHD has two main signatures in terms of brain function: increased slow theta waves and decreased fast beta waves. Thus, ADHD is often discussed in terms of a high theta/beta frequency ratio. With regard to neurofeedback paradigms, negative feedback, like an alarming sound or losing points in the video game, occurs in the presence of “unfocused” brain activity and positive feedback, like a reward in the game, occurs in the presence of “focused” activity. The goal here is to teach the patient’s brain to achieve a lower theta/beta ratio naturally, in a fashion similar to physical therapy. While it may be difficult at first, patients learn to control their brain waves in a way similar to yogis controlling their breathing. Once the subject becomes conscious of the forces causing their behavioral deficits, they can learn to control the source, effectively treating the symptoms. Neurofeeedback has also been proven to help treat syndromes like epilepsy, insomnia and anxiety by targeting different brain regions and patterns of activity.

Where’s the proof?

Neurofeedback has the highest possible ranking for evidence-based ADHD treatment by the American Society of Pediatrics. Often this type of behavioral intervention is appealing as a form of treatment because it is non-invasive and does not require the use of drugs. Parents around the world are turning to this type of therapy in the presence of rising prescription rates and drug use. Studies have shown that neurofeedback training both improves the theta/beta ratio and decreases ADHD symptoms inneurofeedback2 even the most severe cases (Luber et al. 1995). In comparison to
pharmacological treatment, neurofeedback has been shown to be just as, if not more effective in treating ADHD symptoms (Fuchs et al. 2003). Not only have the improvements in symptoms been significant, but they have also been shown to persist months after sessions end (For more info, check out this article and review by Dr. David Rabiner, a professor and psychologist at nearby Duke University: http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2010/08/05/long-term-effects-of-neurofeedback-treatment-for-adhd/). Thus, neurofeedback is not just a temporary fix. Patients maintain the strategies learned in the long term.

So why are you just hearing about this now? In the past, neurofeedback training has been quite costly and time-intensive. However, with the increase in clinical evidence and available technology, neurofeedback training is becoming a much more universal option for treatment. Because neurofeedback is so appealing as a behavioral intervention, the field is ripe for researchers and entrepreneurs, just like us here at NEURO+. Neurofeedback is opening the doors wide open for patients to autonomously improve their symptoms without negative side effects. In fact, our fun and interactive video game design insures that users won’t even know they’re training!

References

Fuchs, T., Birbaumer, N., Lutzenberger, W., Gruzelier, J. H., & Kaiser, J. (2003). Neurofeedback treatment for attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder in children: A comparison with methylphenidate. Applied Psychophysiological and Biofeedback, 28(1).

Hamilton, J. (2010, November 1). Train the brain: Using neurofeedback to treat ADHD. Retrieved May 11, 2015, from http://www.npr.org

Lubar, J. F., Swartwood, M. O., Swartwood, J. N., & O’Donnell, P. H. (1995). Evaluation of the effectiveness of EEG neurofeedback training for ADHD in a clinical setting as measured by changes in T.O.V.A. scores, behavioral ratings, and WISC-R performance. Biofeedback and Self-Regulation, 20(1), 83-99.

Rabiner, D. (2010, August 5). Long-term effects of neurofeedback treatment for ADHD. Retrieved May 11, 2015, from http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2010/08/05/long-term-effects-of-neurofeedback-treatment-for-adhd/