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Neurofeedback

What is neurofeedback? This is a form of biofeedback, one that focuses on the brainwaves and works to normalize brain activity in ways that optimize function. General biofeedback involves providing feedback to patients about something they may not normally have awareness of, to encourage control and improvement.

For example, if we hook up a thermometer to a person’s finger, a heart rate monitor, and a cuff that shows the patient his/her breathing rate, we can train the patient to slow the breathing rate, watch this cause a slowing on heart rate, and then observe the rise in temperature in the fingers. This is helpful, since patients can learn to reduce stress response by increasing the temperature in their fingers. The effect is powerful, and quick.

Similarly, if we can train a person to calm down overly active neurons of the brain, or to speed up brain activity that has slowed more than is healthy, we can improve function. By applying electrodes to the head (externally, there is no invasive aspect to this procedure) and providing feedback on the person’s brain activity, we can train the brainwaves as well.

There are a few different approaches to neurofeedback; at The Neuroscience Team we utilize any one of 5 different methods, or systems, to bring improvement to our patients. The acquisition of all these systems has occurred over time due to our recognition of the fact that individuals tend to respond to neurofeedback methodologies very differently, and it is difficult to predict any one person’s response to each approach. As such, we prefer to have many options, and to find the right match for every patient; there can be a trial-and-error process in this, sometimes. Hereunder, I shall detail these systems and their unique approaches.

Neuroguide

The creation of Dr. Robert Thatcher, Neuroguide is a masterful program that trains the brain through “Z-score training”, which means it operates from a database of the normative peer group, and trains the individual patient towards the mean, and away from excessive deviances (whether exceedingly high or low). Studies have repeatedly documented that people always do better when they are closer to the mean of that normative database, since it provides them with the capacity to use the full range of frequencies, as needed.

When needing to think fast, the healthy brain will be capable of recruiting the neurons to fast activity, and, as the person calms down and relaxes, the neurons will respond by idling in a relaxed rhythm, or by slowing to allow sleep. Neuroguide trains towards that normalization. In order to achieve this, however, the entire head of electrodes is needed, so a cap will be worn; Dr. Thatcher advocates targeting 2-3 symptom clusters at a time, and no more.  As a reward for improving brain function, a movie can be run in conjunction with the training, where brightness or clarity of the ‘movie screen’ will increase or decrease to provide the feedback; we can also use music or a ‘video game’ as the reward tool.

Brainmaster Avatar

This system can likewise train either against the database, or as “Region of Interest” (ROI) targeting. When using the ROI approach, we will simply enhance one particular speed of brainwave, perhaps suppressing another, in a particular region of interest. For example, for the patient suffering high anxiety and autonomic activation (“fight-flight” reactions), we can enhance alpha waves (soothing states) in the ROI of the limbic lobe – responsible for emotional and autonomic reactions – and inhibit beta, our faster brainwave. This will usually reduce the autonomic reaction and bring about calming.  Brainmaster is a highly challenging program for therapists to learn, just because it has much power and a wide range of options, and can be challenging for the brain of the patient, so we will often gradually increase the amount of targeted change we ask from the brain. Reward systems can be: movies, music, or games.  Although a cap is usually used for the ‘whole head’ training of Neuroguide and Brainmaster, we do have a Dry Sensor Imaging (DSI) device that allows us to avoid the gel.

EEG Spectrum (also referred to as EEGer)

This is a simpler approach, using a maximum of 2 electrodes at a time, targeting only that one region within a particular training session, and boosting amplitude of the bandwidth we wish, while inhibiting the ‘disturbing’ bandwidth. This is similar to the ROI approach in Brainmaster, described above, in that we are not training according to the database, but rather boosting what we believe feel the patient needs, and inhibiting that which is excessive in the patient. Because it is much simpler, this approach tends to be easier on the brain, and we find it particularly effective with children. Patients also seem to like the screen presentation of the games within the program.

High Performance Neurofeedback (HPN)

This newcomer to the neurofeedback scene was created by Corey Snook, an engineer, who sought to treat his own daughter’s seizure condition by improving the efficacy of neurofeedback, since she could not tolerate anti-convulsant medications. Thus, his system is also very effective at reducing seizure and epileptic activity. Since then, the system has proven itself, and is now widely used in treatment of former NFL players, to treat their multiple concussion problems. In this treatment, the electrodes are hooked up, two at a time, to specific locations, and these sites are then treated for approximately 20 seconds. Yes, that’s how effective it is! The computer finds out what the ‘peak frequency’ (or dominant frequency) is of each site, and then puts out a different frequency of 10 Hz difference from the peak detected, which encourages the person’s brain neurons to try running at a different frequency. Within the 20 seconds of exposure, the computer will likely project about 10 alternate frequencies of this nature, and at closure, the site will have experienced a range of speeds. This encourages the neurons to be capable of the full range of speeds, which should put the person more in charge of what their brain does, rather than subject to it. The anti-anxiety effect is immediate, and reported quite dramatic, by almost all patients, when Levels 1 or 2 of the treatment options are used. Once the brain has adjusted to the modality, it is often safe to increase the stimulatory power of the system, going to higher levels, but we always seek constant feedback from the patient on how they respond to this, since for some this can be too ‘activating’, or excitatory.

Hemoencephalographic (HEG) Neurofeedback

Lastly, we also offer in our practice the possibility of a training of the frontal lobe, through use of the HEG device, developed by Dr. Jeffrey Carmen of Australia. By training on the forehead only, this device can increase cortical activity and blood flow to the frontal lobes of the brain, causing increase in power of attention and focus. Dr. Carmen also advocates use of this device to treat migraines, although the nature of the migraine should be carefully evaluated before applying. Also, when treating attention deficit, it is important we know whether the problem derives from reduced cortical activity in the frontal lobe, or excessive. Both conditions would cause behavioral deficit, but the treatment approach should be completely different. Just as some patients will respond well to administration of amphetamine stimulants, due to needing more activity in the frontal area, patients of the same etiology will respond well to the HEG modality.  However, if the problem is over-activity in the frontal area, both stimulant medication and HEG can make things worse. For these reasons, obtaining a brain map before we start is always a good idea. Kids will love this treatment since it is gel-free, and usually uses movies as the reward modality.

Treating Pain

Studies in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) have established the primary place of a Mind-Body approach in pain relief and healing. When it comes to auto-immune diseases, or chronic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia and RSD, the ongoing stress of suffering from the symptoms sensitizes the limbic system, increasing the discomfort. This cycle often continues repeatedly, fueling itself.

Several treatments have been documented to effectively interrupt this cycle, bringing relief and a reduction in symptoms. These include biofeedbackneurofeedback, and hypnotherapy.

Individual response rate varies from patient to patient.

Biofeedback provides patients with an opportunity to attend to components of their autonomic nervous system individually, and to reset both mind and body to calmer states of being. As the limbic system attains peace, symptoms reduce. The patient experiences a sense of greater control over her condition, with improvements in quality of life.

Recent advances in the technology of biofeedback have also allowed us to target specific muscles or neurological regions with electronic, infra-red or ultrasonic impulses that reduce tension and induce relief.

Neurofeedback involves a more direct approach to the Mind part of the Mind-Body system. In neurofeedback, the patient is provided with an opportunity to retrain his brainwaves. Since research has provided us with deeply enhanced understanding of the brainwave patterns that accompany, or bring about relief, and feel-good states, we can help patients attain these states relatively quickly. Yet again, this reduces symptoms and gives the patient more control.

Hypnotherapy is yet another effective approach to chronic disease and pain: by addressing the sub-conscious of the patient directly, a therapist can interrupt the reactivity of the limbic system, resulting in enhanced health and wellness.

To find out whether these treatments may improve your life, call us

The Neuroscience Team
410-828-8700