Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a childhood behavioral disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of lack of attention and/or impulsivity that hinders many aspects of a child’s normal development or functioning. This is a frequent, complex condition affecting an estimated 11 percent of American children (according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). While a cure for this disorder is lacking, traditional treatment relies on diminishing the symptoms and improving daily performance. To achieve this, medication (which often results in significant side-effect), psychotherapy, education or training are used separately or combined. In addition to this, a more innovative, complementary treatment option is gaining ground – neurofeedback.
How does it work?
Normally, when focusing on a task, brain activity speeds up to accelerate the processing of the information. According to the current scientific model, people with ADHD have an excessive number of theta brain waves (slow brain waves associated with relaxation) while having insufficient beta waves (fast waves associated with concentration). Neurofeedback therapies are designed to boost the number of fast waves and reduce the number of slow ones, enhancing concentration on cognitive tasks.
In a typical training setting, patients are required to watch movies, play video games, listen to audio sequences while staying connected to a set of sensors that pass the data to a computer. The computer is programmed to alter the flow of the training activity (e.g. stop the video) in the presence of erratic, unbalanced brain waves (abnormal number of slow and fast brain waves). Pausing and restarting the activity for numerous times over the duration of the session helps to produce more normal brain waves that translates into a better focus and relaxation.
The patients can also monitor their own brain wave patterns (for instance on a screen, or integrated in a video game) opening the potential to manipulate them and achieve better self-control. For instance, during a therapy session, they can “watch” which methods allow their brain to function most efficiently. Later, while going of the sensors, they can use these same methods in daily activities. Neurofeedback training can help children learn “to activate” their brains when needed, which is especially crucial for their normal studying.
What research validates the method?
There are several scientific studies into the efficiency of neurofeedback that prove a significant positive effect. Although the use of neurofeedback for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has been quite controversial for years, scientific support for this method is starting to grow considerably. In fact, in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics rated the treatment as a level one “Best Support” solution for ADHD (along with medication and behavioral therapy).
A recent large trial from 2014, involving over one hundred children (7-11 years old) with ADHD who passed 40 sessions of in-school computer attention training and were then evaluated 6 months after the training, revealed that the children undergoing treatment made more prompt and greater improvements in their symptoms compared to the control ones. The results have been published in the Pediatrics journal with an impact factor of 5.8.
Despite all the positive results from research and practice, it is worth keeping in mind that, to this day, neither behavioral therapy nor neurofeedback are generally used as stand-alone treatments for ADHD, with most doctors relying on traditional medication as well. San Diego neurofeedback specialist, Dr. Michael Villanueva, believes that neurofeedback may be the single most powerful tool for correcting ADHD. His years of clinical experience have demonstrated the immense power of neurofeedback in altering maladaptive brain wave patterns, especially those arising from ADHD.