What is Neurofeedback?

Neurotherapy is direct training of brain function, by which the brain learns to function more efficiently.

Overview

Neurotherapy is also called "EEG Biofeedback" and "Neurofeedback." It involves helping a person learn how to modify his or her brainwave activity to improve attention, reduce impulsivity, and to control hyperactive behaviours. It is a painless, non-invasive treatment approach that allows the individual to gain information about his or her brainwave activity and use that information to produce changes in brainwave activity. In Neurotherapy, individuals are trained through the use of computerized biofeedback equipment to change their brainwave activity.


Introduction to Neurotherapy

Neurofeedback is direct training of brain function, by which the brain learns to function more efficiently. We observe the brain in action from moment to moment. We show that information back to the person and we reward the brain for changing its own activity to more appropriate patterns. This is a gradual learning process. It applies to any aspect of brain function that we can measure.

Neurofeedback is also called EEG biofeedback, because it is based on electrical brain activity, the electroencephalogram, or EEG. Neurofeedback is training in self-regulation. It is simply biofeedback applied to the brain directly. Self-regulation is a necessary part of good brain function. Self-regulation training allows the central nervous system to function better.

Neurofeedback addresses problems of brain disregulation. The types of disregulation are numerous, including the anxiety-depression spectrum, attention deficits, behaviour disorders, various sleep disorders, headaches, migraines, PMS, and emotional disturbances. It is also useful for organic brain conditions such as seizures, the autism spectrum, and cerebral palsy.

Indeed, with neurofeedback the symptoms may be entirely suppressed. A person with diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder may be able to train the brain to pay attention.

A person coming in with migraines may no longer have them. (However, that person may still have a greater "vulnerability" to migraines than the average person on the street.) A person with epilepsy may no longer have seizures. (Although that person still retains a vulnerability to seizures.) A child with severe rages and temper tantrums may not express them again.

Electrodes are applied to the scalp to listen in on brainwave activity. The signal is processed by the computer, and information about certain key brainwave frequencies is made known. The ebb and flow of this activity is directed to the client, who attempts to change the activity level. Some frequencies are promoted, while others are diminished.  This information is presented to the client in the form of a video game. The person is effectively playing the video game with his or her brain. Eventually the brainwave activity is re-trained back toward more desirable patterns. The frequencies targeted, and the specific locations on the scalp where we listen in on the brain, are specific to the conditions we are trying to address, and specific to the individual.

Over the years, certain training protocols have been developed that are helpful with certain classes of problems such as attention, anxiety and depression, seizures and migraines, as well as cognitive function. There are a number of assessment tools we use to help us decide which protocols to use. These are simple neurodiagnostic and neuropsychological tests.


How Is Neurotherapy Performed?

Brainwave activity is measured with an electroencephalograph (EEG). The EEG Biofeedback equipment is connected to the individual with sensors that are placed on the scalp and ears. The sensors are safe, do not prick the skin, and are painless. After adequate connection to the scalp and ears are made, the individual's brainwave activity can be observed on a computer monitor.

Neurotherapy practitioners who administer Neurofeedback will help the client learn to change his or her brainwave activity. The client does not need to know a lot about Neurotherapy or biofeedback to be effectively trained. Clients are taught to play computerized games using their brainwave activity. Changes in client brainwave activity are fed back to the individual through visual and/or auditory information by the computer. One example is a game where clients move a figure through a maze. The figure does not move because of the client's motor activity (e.g., pushing a button or moving a stick). Instead, the figure moves whenever the client produces specific brainwave patterns. When desired levels of brainwave activity occur, the individual is reinforced, because the figure moves through the maze. By this method, clients learn to change brainwave activity. Clients also practice maintaining learned brainwave states when engaged in school or work related tasks (e.g. reading, writing). This will help them use what they learned from neurofeedback in their daily activities.


What is Attention-Deficit Disorder?

Attention-Deficit Disorder is a disorder that can be separated into three types:

  1. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Combined Type (includes both symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity),
  2. Predominantly Inattentive Type (sometimes referred to as ADD) and
  3. Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type (sometimes referred to as ADHD or Hyperactivity Disorder).

Dr Daniel Amen has described six separate types of "Attention-Deficit" . The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is often the main reference point, which uses the three types described above.

Individuals with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Combined Type have six or more symptoms of inattention and six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity that have been present for six or more months.

Individuals with Attention-Deficit Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Type (ADD) exhibit six or more symptoms of inattention and less than six symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity. They usually exhibit some of the following symptoms: inattention, distractibility, disorganization, daydreaming, lack of foresight, carelessness, forgetfulness, lack of motivation, lack of persistence, and procrastination.

Individuals with Attention-Deficit Disorder, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type (ADHD) usually exhibit six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity and less than six symptoms of inattention. They usually exhibit some of the following symptoms: hyperactivity, fidgeting behaviour, restlessness, excessive talking, inappropriate running and climbing, often "on the go," can't wait turn, interrupt others, and impulsive.

Many individuals display symptoms that can be included under any of the three types of attention-deficit disorder. Individuals with an Attention-Deficit Disorder, e.g.

ADD or ADHD often have significant difficulties with learning, concentration, school or job achievement, behaviour control, social relationships, and self-esteem.

Further, Attention-Deficit Disorders are often associated with other disorders, such as Learning Disorders, Oppositional and Conduct Disorders, Tourette's, Anxiety, and Depression. Neurofeedback can be used to treat individuals with all three types of attention-deficit disorders, as well as some of the associated disorders.


What Results Are Expected from Neurotherapy?

Through changes in brainwave activity, reductions in ADD/ADHD symptoms are expected to occur. Individuals who have experienced neurofeedback therapy have also reported improvements in school or work performance, social relationships, and self-esteem, as well as reduction in irritability and oppositional behaviour. Neurotherapy practitioners will use various assessment instruments to determine whether the desired changes in brainwave activity and/or behaviour have occurred. Individuals should be aware that Neurotherapy can have a significant effect on seizure activity of those with seizure disorders. This effect, however, is usually positive (i.e. a reduction in seizures).

While you should not experience negative side effects from Neurotherapy, you may experience additional benefits. Some individuals report increased relaxation, reduced stress, and a heightened sense of control over their bodies, thoughts, and feelings during or immediately after treatment sessions.


How Successful Is Neurotherapy?

Some clinicians and researchers have reported remarkable success in the treatment of ADD/ADHD with Neurotherapy. Others still consider Neurotherapy to be an experimental procedure. Several research studies reporting successful treatment outcomes with ADD/ADHD have been published over the last 20 years. In addition, there are increasing numbers of clinician reports being added to computerized data bases that attest to the effectiveness of Neurofeedback as a treatment for ADD/ADHD.

Some major reasons why practitioners are committed to providing Neurotherapy are: to attempt to help individuals for whom other approaches have failed, to help individuals who do not want to use medications for years, and to add to the scientific evidence related to the use of neurofeedback.


What Are the Potential Side Effects of Neurotherapy?

Unlike the use of medications for treating ADD/ADHD, Neurofeedback rarely produces negative side effects. In fact, lack of side effects is a major reason for the use of Neurotherapy.