While there are various approaches to treating ADHD, the use of medication is most commonly prescribed. However, medication can cause unwanted side effects for many people, perhaps as high as 48%.
These side effects include:
- Sleep disturbance.
- Lack of appetite.
- Altered mood.
- Head and stomach pain.
- Rebound behaviors
Increasingly, people are searching for safer alternatives to medication. Neurofeedback (or brain wave biofeedback) is one such treatment which has a 40-year history of documented success.
The objective of neurofeedback
The idea behind neurofeedback is simple – changes in brain function can affect feeling states and behavior. Specifically, neurofeedback encourages the strengthening of certain brain waves and the inhibiting of others.
We are all producing five types of brainwaves all the time: delta waves (1-3 times per second), theta waves (4-7 times per second), alpha waves (8-11 times per second), beta waves (12- 38 times per second) and gamma waves (above 38 times per second).
Originally, researchers observed that the balance of theta to beta waves is upset in persons challenged by ADHD – specifically, children with ADHD were found to have theta waves which were two times stronger than their beta waves (in normal controls theta waves were found to be no more than 1 1/2 times stronger than beta waves). Then the target of neurofeedback was to decrease theta waves and increase beta waves, particularly over the center of the head.
We now know that ADHD symptoms are present with different types of anomalies in a person’s brain wave configuration. As such, facilities should take full advantage of available technology and utilize a quantitative electroencephalogram (qEEG). A qEEG provides a comprehensive map of each person’s brain (which is compared to a data base of other people that age) which is then used to help inform how to proceed. This approach signifies personalized treatment, as each person will be encouraged to train the specific brain waves that are causing them problems
How neurofeedback works
As in any intervention, a practitioner must have as much information as possible about the person to be treated. The specialist may ask questions about symptoms, treatment history and lifestyle.
After the initial assessment, the individual will continue to provide additional information regarding symptoms to enable the clinician to track progress achieved by neurofeedback treatment.
Once we have decided on a protocol (what brain waves to address and over what parts of the brain we want to train) we place sensors on the scalp to read the person’s brain waves in real time. The person is then asked to play a specifically designed video game without using a mouse or keyboard – as long as they can modify their brain waves in the desired direction the game will proceed. When they don’t modify their waves the game stops. As such, they get immediate feedback about their success and are reinforced when they change their brain waves in the helpful direction.
After fifteen neurofeedback sessions, another qEEG is conducted and another protocol is developed based on this new information. This process continues until either the goals are met or we decide we have exhausted the progress neurofeedback can provide.
How effective is neurofeedback?
The understanding and evaluation of neurofeedback have changed over time. In 2009, Arns et al.published a meta-analysis of studies on the use of neurofeedback in ADHD. The group concluded that treatment of ADHD with this technique could be considered “efficacious and specific.”
In 2014, another meta-analysis re-confirmed the view of the effectiveness of neurofeedback in treating the symptoms of ADHD. This study took the observations of parents and teachers into effect, which previous assessments had not. Parents and teachers noted improvements in different symptoms. While teachers saw increased attention, parents observed decreases in hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. The study concluded that neurofeedback could be useful. Like most procedures, neurofeedback has its critics, but parents continue to report improvements in symptoms.
Advantages of neurofeedback
Although research should continue, clinicians observe the following benefits that may be relevant in ADHD treatment with neurofeedback techniques:
- Extended attention spans
- Decreased hyperactivity.
- Decreased anxiety
- Enhanced sleep quality.
- Improved behavior.
Choosing a neurofeedback provider
The availability of a full array of services is essential in addressing the diverse challenges a person with ADHD may face. Clinicians should have extensive experience and be experts in their field. A team with complementary skill sets can coordinate a treatment plan that will comprehensively address the needs of clients.
For access to additional resources or further information on neurofeedback, contact us at 973-276-9040.