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Therapists are using neurofeedback to treat ADHD, PTSD and other conditions
By Arlene Karidis
The Washington Post
January 19, 2015
In September 2013, Chris Gardner went from kicking and spinning as a black belt in taekwondo to being locked in a world where he could not follow conversations — or even walk his dog. The 58-year-old Vienna, Va., resident had just had brain surgery to remove a large tumor, and the operation affected his mobility and cognition.
After nine months of physical and occupational therapy, he’d made little progress. So he tried neurofeedback, hoping this controversial treatment would improve his balance and mental processes.
Neurofeedback — a type of biofeedback — uses movies, video games, computers and other tools to help individuals regulate their brain waves. A patient might watch a movie, for example, while hooked to sensors that send data to a computer. A therapist, following the brain activity on a monitor, programs the computer to stop the movie if an abnormal number of fast or slow brain waves is detected or if the brain waves are erratic, moving rapidly from fast to slow waves.
The stop-and-start feedback, repeated over and over in numerous sessions, seems to yield more-normal brain waves. Researchers who endorse the technique say they don’t know exactly how it works but they say the changes in brain waves result in improved ability to focus and relax.
Better focus and relaxation can seemingly help improve or eliminate such conditions as migraines (imbalanced brain waves are associated with certain symptoms like pain) and anxiety.
Neurofeedback, which is also used for post-traumatic stress disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, has been around since the 1960s. Some research has found it promising. Other studies have been inconclusive, and some have shown no positive outcomes.
The most solid data concern ADHD, especially a recent trial involving 104 children published in March in the Journal of Pediatrics. Those who received neurofeedback had improvements in attention and impulse control, while those who did not receive the therapy did not. These improvements persisted after six months. The authors concluded that neurofeedback may be a “promising attention training treatment for children with ADHD.”
Gardner had read that the technique could aid in recovery from brain injuries.
“I was skeptical. But I was desperate. I felt like I was wrapped in miles of cotton and could not reach through it to touch or feel anything,” said Gardner, an electronic technology consultant. His doctor was projecting a two-to-three-year recovery period, based on Gardner’s slow progress nine months after surgery.
Paleo Breakfast Bars
- 1 cup blanched almond flour
- ¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- ½ cup pumpkin seeds
- ½ cup sunflower seeds
- ¼ cup blanched slivered almonds
- ¼ cup raisins
- In a food processor combine almond flour and salt
- Pulse in coconut oil, honey, water and vanilla
- Pulse in coconut, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almond slivers and raisins
- Press dough into an 8 x 8 inch baking dish, wetting your hands with water to pat dough down
- Bake at 350° for 20 minutes
- Cool bars in pan for 2 hours, then serve
Makes 16 bars
The highest compliment
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is the referral
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SIRRI offers these services
for both children & adults:
- Neurofeedback & Biofeedback
- QEEG / Brain Mapping
- Cognitive Retraining: memory, processing & problem solving skills
- Attention, Concentration & Focus Training
- Auditory & Visual Processing
- Reading Development: fluency & comprehension
- Balance, Coordination & Motor Planning Development
- Stress & Anxiety Management
- Peak Performance
Can Neurofeedback Help Kids with ADHD Press the Restart Button?
By Penny Williams
February 3, 2015
Michaela’s son had been hyperactive since he was a baby.
In first grade, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Like many children with this condition, the young boy started taking a stimulant medication to treat his ADHD.
It was never quite enough. Medical practitioners tried adding various medications for other symptoms over the years, with marginal success.
Michaela, a Tennessee mother who asked that we use only her first name, felt guilty about giving her son medication. That sparked her interest in neurofeedback.
“When you are desperate to find help for your child,” Michaela told Healthline, “you'll try anything that is safe and documented in the literature.”
ADHD Is a Growing Concern
Approximately 11 percent of children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. Some experts are calling it an epidemic.
The rising number of ADHD cases has led some parents to try alternatives such as neurofeedback.
A few years ago neurofeedback was added to the list of ADHD treatments. The expensive alternative treatment is a procedure where a therapist reads brain activity on an electroencephalography (EEG) test and adjusts feedback to directly train brain function.
Many experts are still skeptical about the validity of neurofeedback as a mainstream treatment for ADHD.
They cite studies that failed to show significant improvement in ADHD symptoms and studies that weren’t controlled enough to truly validate outcomes.
However, as the rates of ADHD have risen, the condition has been studied more intensely. There was little research on the efficacy of neurofeedback to treat ADHD before 2000. There have been dozens of studies on the subject since then.
How Neurofeedback Works
In a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Pediatrics, children with ADHD who received neurofeedback made both quicker and greater improvements in ADHD symptoms than kids who had only cognitive training or neither treatment. Those improvements were still seen six months after neurofeedback sessions ended.
This study suggests neurofeedback is a promising treatment for ADHD, one that could have lasting effects, unlike ADHD medication that only eases symptoms when it is taken daily.
Neurofeedback is essentially playing a video game but with the child’s brain as the controller instead of their fingers. Brain waves are measured through an EEG as the child interacts with the game.
When the treatment works, ADHD children harness their brain waves appropriately by learning how to control them. That spurs the motivation to participate and retrains their brain at the same time, improving focus and attention. In addition, memories are formed for how they succeeded and are used in everyday life.
Worth the Risk for Some Parents
Desperate parents with the means to cover the cost of the treatment have been willing to try neurofeedback with their kids. Michaela is one of them. When her son was in sixth grade, they participated in approximately 25 sessions back-to-back for a month.
“Other than the $3,000 hit to my wallet, we consider neurofeedback a success,” said Michaela. “At first, things got worse as his brain was reorganizing. After the second or third week, my son noted his thoughts were ‘quieter than normal,’ which he really liked. Overall, after a month of neurofeedback, we noticed reduced anxiety and better responses to our requests to do things he didn’t like, such as homework and chores.”
While psychologists told the family they could stop their son’s medication, Michaela knew that wasn’t a possibility. They were, however, able to lower his medication dosage for ADHD and anxiety while maintaining success. Despite the continued need for medication, Michaela says, “We were happy with the differences we saw in his behavior.”
The positive effects of neurofeedback are still pronounced, 18 months after completing treatment.
“Life at home significantly improved with the treatment, while some disorganization and attentiveness are still a bit of a challenge at school,” Michaela said. “I think neurofeedback should be covered by health insurance so this treatment would be accessible to all ADHD families and for longer treatment periods.”
Anecdotal evidence, like the story of Michaela and her son, may be enough to spur more families to try neurofeedback. ADHD cannot be cured, but some experts feel neurofeedback shows promise in treating symptoms long-term.
Test subjects taking part in an 8-week program of mindfulness meditation showed results that astonished even the most experienced neuroscientists at Harvard University.
The study was led by a Harvard-affiliated team of researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the team’s MRI scans documented for the very first time in medical history how meditation produced massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter. “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
Sue McGreevey of MGH writes: “Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.” Until now, that is. The participants spent an average of 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercises, and this is all it took to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. McGreevey adds: “Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.”
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. You can read more about the remarkable study by visiting Harvard.edu. If this is up your alley then you need to read this: “Listen As Sam Harris Explains How To Tame Your Mind (No Religion Required)”
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