Neurofeedback – What It Is and Who It May Help

Please see all references at the end of the post

Neurofeedback uses a complicated brain-computer interface (BCI) to “strengthen” areas of the brain that may be underactive.  Small sensors are attached to the head, which are then attached to the BCI, which can monitor brainwaves.

It all began in the US in the 1950s, with studies that looked into neurofeedback therapy for epilepsy (1).  These days, it is used in astronaut training to reduce the risk of astronauts having seizures or hallucinations in space, as well as by the US military in training their special forces (1).  

In clinics around Australia, neurofeedback is used for a range of disorders including:

  • ADHD (2-5)
  • Anxiety and depression (6, 7)
  • Epilepsy (8)
  • Migraines and headaches (9)

Athletes are also using neurofeedback to enhance concentration and improve their focus under pressure (10).

What Does Neurofeedback Involve?

Neurofeedback is suitable for most ages, however your health professional should always be consulted before attempting any therapy.

The patient’s brainwaves are monitored and analysed in real-time, and then they concentrate on either slowing their brainwaves (in cases of disorders such as anxiety, in which brain waves are often too fast), or accelerating their brainwaves (in cases of disorders such as ADHD, in which brainwaves are often too slow).

The patient is instructed to watch an animation or something similar on a computer screen.

In the case of anxiety, as the patient’s brainwave activity decreases, they are “rewarded”, and the animation improves in clarity or speed.

Conversely, if their brainwave activity goes the other way, further away from “normal”, the animation grows darker or more blurry.

This way, the brain begins to associate “good” levels of brainwave activity with rewards and “abnormal” levels of brainwave activity with “punishment”. Over time, this is theorized to retrain brainwave activity, thereby helping minimize the effects of some neurological disorders.

How Do You Know If Neurofeedback Is Right For You?

The best way to find out is to contact a clinic that offers neurofeedback and inquire as to whether an initial consultation will be beneficial for your diagnosis.

The initial consultation will consist of a thorough history and assessment, which may also include other special tests such as orthopaedic, neurological and cognitive examinations.

You will also often be asked to bring along any relevant imaging or studies you may have had from previous doctors.

A QEEG may also be offered, which assesses your brain function, and is then used as the basis for neurofeedback therapy. Always feel free to ask your clinician any questions you may have and consult other therapists for second opinions.

So How Quickly Will I Begin To Notice Results?

Like most therapies, neurofeedback is not a “miracle cure”, and so results can vary. Of course, everyone is different, including their brains!

However, the literature supports that most people may expect to report some improvement (1).

The good news is that, according to the evidence, once the brain has learnt how to function better, it stays that way, so the effects of treatment are long-term (1).

Many patients also require specific lifestyle or self-help advice that will complement therapy.

This may include nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress and ergonomic management strategies and advice. It is important to implement these changes in order to maximize the results of treatment.

As neurofeedback is a relatively new treatment option, the field is currently unregulated and most health practitioners are able to prescribe treatment if they own the relevant equipment.

Nevertheless, practitioners are increasingly seeking out formal certification from The Biofeedback certification International Alliance (BCIA) that requires formal learning content and examination (1).

Thus, it is important to ensure that you research the relevant health care practitioner and are assured that neurofeedback is within their scope of practice.

References

  1. http://www.perthbraincentre.com.au/neurofeedback-perth/
  2. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 Nov 13;8:906. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00906. eCollection 2014.EEG neurofeedback treatments in children with ADHD: an updated meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Micoulaud-Franchi JA, Geoffroy PA, Fond G, Lopez R, Bioulac S, Philip P.
  3. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2014 Jan;35(1):18-27. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000009. Neurofeedback and cognitive attention training for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in schools. Steiner NJ, Frenetic EC, Rene KM, Brennan RT, Perrin EC.
  4. 2014 Mar;133(3):488-92.doi:10.1542/peds/2013-2059.Epub 2014 Feb 17. In-school neurofeedback training for ADHD: sustained improvements from a randomised control trial. Steiner NJ, Frenetic EC, Rene KM, Brennan RT, Perrin EC.
  5. Biol Psychol. 2014 Jan;95:116-25. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2013.09.009. Epub 2013 Sep 18. Reprint of “Neurofeedback and standard pharmacological intervention in ADHD:” a randomized controlled trial with six-month follow-up”. Meisel V, Servera M, Garcia-Banda G, Cardo E, Moreno I.
  6. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback, 2016. 41(1): p. 103-10. The Efficacy of Neurofeedback in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder: An Open Labeled Prospective Study. Cheon, E.J., B.H. Koo, and J.H. Choi
  7. Procedia – Social Behav Sci 2011; 30:103-107. 2nd World Conference on Psychology, Counselling and Guidance. Treatment of anxiety disorder with neurofeedback. A. Moradi, F. Pouladia, N. Pishvab, et al
  8. Clin EEG Neurosci, 2011. 42(1): p. 59-61. QEEG-guided neurofeedback for recurrent migraine headaches. Walker, J.E.
  9. Clin EEG Neurosci, 2009. 40(3): p. 173-9. Meta-analysis of EEG biofeedback in treating epilepsy. Tan, G., et al.
  10. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 2002. 12(2): p. 179-196. Physiological Self-Regulation and Adaptive Automation. Prinzel Iii, L.J., A.T. Pope, and F.G. Freeman

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