Welcome to the world of brain technology: cutting-edge, promising, and, yes, confusing to the average consumer. For purposes of this article, we will address brain technology devices used by licensed professionals, specifically, neurofeedback.
What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is an advanced neurotechnology designed to improve the brainwave state of the user. Adults and children use neurofeedback to help with traumatic brain injury recovery (a.k.a. concussion, both recent and past), ADD/ADHD, anxiety, stress, overwhelm, PTSD, insomnia, headaches, addiction, autism, cognitive decline, focus and concentration. In addition, athletes and performers use neurofeedback to hone their skills. For example, professional and serious amateur athletes tend to overtrain and get stuck in nervous system overdrive. As their brainwave patterns improve with neurofeedback, they become more focused and better able to perform in high pressure situations.
Why does neurofeedback address so many seemingly unrelated issues?
The brain functions as the command-and-control center of the body. It is the primary receiver, organizer and distributor of information. As the brainwave state improves, and “stuck” patterns are eliminated, many positive effects are seen on the health and wellness of the client. It is analogous to rebooting a computer.
There are two types of neurofeedback, active and passive.
Both forms are perceived as a pleasant experience by the client. Even though electrical signals are involved, neither involves any pain or sensation of electrical activity. Active neurofeedback, as the name implies, requires the client to perform tasks, most often on a computer screen in the form of a game. Sensors are attached to the head, which monitor and measure brainwave activity. When the desired brainwave activity is achieved, the user is rewarded. Conversely when unwanted activity is generated, the user is “punished” by losing points or not achieving the desired outcome. According to a Harvard University publication, repeated exposure to such gains and losses can bring about long-lasting changes in brain activity.
Passive neurofeedback, on the other hand, does not require any conscious effort on the client’s part. Instead, the brain receives a signal through the leads attached to the head while the client rests in a chair. Information from the brain is read by leads and then a signal is “fed back” to the brain. Although the signal is weak, passive devices like microcurrent neurofeedback produce a measurable change in the brainwaves. It does not train the brain like traditional “active” neurofeedback but instead “disentrains” the brain by allowing it to reorganize and release itself from frozen, stuck patterns. As a result, many clients report being relaxed and having a sense of clarity after sessions.
Is there clinical evidence?
Various forms of neurofeedback have been around for more than 40 years. Here are some examples of research and how it has been applied:
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics rated EEG Biofeedback (known as neurofeedback) as a Level 1 Best Support for Attention and Hyperactivity Behaviors.
Pubmed is the federal government’s search engine for biomedical literature. The public may access the website and view clinical studies and study citations. For example, a search using the keyword neuro feedback yields 4,323 results.
A Concussion Study at UCSD funded in part by the Department of Defense found a 54% reduction in abnormal brainwaves on sophisticated MEG brain imaging and a 53% reduction in symptoms after just 12 sessions of IASIS Microcurrent Neurofeedback. Reported improvement: headaches, insomnia, anxiety, sensitivity to light and sound, focus, concentration, memory, tobacco use cessation, stuttering, and feelings of frustration. The study’s principal investigator, Mingxiong Huang, Ph.D, states, “I believe in this technology as an effective tool to reduce symptoms such as PTSD, mTBI [concussion], migraine & headache, diminishing impulsivity & anxiety, & potentially helping with numerous other conditions such as addiction to smoking, improving memory & sleep.”
Is it safe? Are there side effects?
In the first few sessions, a client may experience reactivity of the nervous system. These reactions, if they occur, are temporary and typically only last up to 24 hours. Symptoms can include fatigue, spaciness, anxiousness, weirdness, a headache, or worsening symptoms.
How does neurofeedback fit into my treatment plan?
Neurofeedback works best when used as part of a comprehensive approach. It can be used with or without medication. It is not considered a “quick fix,” as the brain needs time to learn and adjust to new patterns. Although many may experience immediate benefits, changes are only sustained once repeated sessions are performed.. The goal is to achieve enduring sustainability. The number of sessions required varies depending on the device used and the complexity of the medical history. Other factors such as trauma, food allergies, sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, social pressures, expression of genetic traits and other root causes often need to be considered and included in the treatment plan by the team of medical professionals to achieve desired results.
Although there is still much to learn, neurofeedback has undoubtedly earned its place as a safe and effective option for many complex problems, especially when used as part of a comprehensive approach to care. Brain science is a rapidly developing field and offers hope to many who are being held back by challenges to optimal brain function.
Linda Edwards, RN, MSN is the owner of ResilientMe, Inc. in Little Silver, NJ. She has extensive experience in finding solutions to health and wellness challenges from all sources, especially safe and effective products, services and technologies. Linda’s philosophy is simple: she is only interested in things that work.
ResilientMe, Inc offers Microcurrent Neurofeedback services which help optimize brain performance for people who have suffered concussions, endure high levels of stress, athletic and professional performance demands, and experience difficulty with memory, concentration and focus.
Linda’s experience includes not only clinical practice but also managing Human Capital Health Management programs for Fortune 100 companies. www.Resilient-Me.com