Neurofeedback therapy (also known as neurotherapy or EEG biofeedback) is a non-invasive form of data collection and brain training.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
First, an EEG (electroencephalogram) is obtained to evaluate electrical activity in the brain, track and record brain patterns, and “map” the brain. There are many reasons why a doctor recommends obtaining an EEG and undergoing neurofeedback.
Sometimes EEGs are used in sleep studies to determine if a person’s sleep/wake cycles are normal. EEGs are often ordered if a doctor suspects someone is having seizure activity. A person may also want to get an EEG to evaluate their brain functioning as compared to a normal group to see if any problems might be able to be improved with neurofeedback, which is a non-invasive way to ‘train the brain’ into more efficiency and stability.
How Doctors Get Feedback Data
An EEG head cap includes small metal discs called electrodes that attach to the scalp with wires. The electrodes assess the electrical impulses in the brain and send the electrical signals to a computer to analyze the results. There is no physical sensation or electrical shock during this process. During a neurofeedback session technicians collect EEG data by placing an EEG dry or wet head cap on a patient’s head and ear clipping electrodes on each ear.
A wet cap differentiates from a dry cap in that saline gel is added into the electrode sites, whereas no gel is involved with a dry cap. Individuals are asked to remove any earrings. Ears and forehead are cleaned with Nu-prep abrasion gel to clean the surface of these sites. This saline gel may easily be wiped out following EEG collection, but it may require additional washing or hair re-styling following the procedure if a wet cap is used.
Total set-up time is typically about 5 minutes.
An eyes-open and eye-closed baseline is taken which will be used to monitor electrical activity in the brain and create an individual protocol for brain training in subsequent sessions. The technician or doctor will have the patient sit still for approximately 10 minutes with their eyes open without doing a task. Then the technician or doctor will repeat the same process with the patient closing their eyes.
To achieve good data, the patient may be asked to relax their jaw, soften their eye gaze, or focus on a particular place in the room to reduce the amount of artifact in the EEG. Artifact refers to the “noise” in the EEG that can be caused by tight muscles, blinking, or movements. Doctors must edit the raw EEG data and determine what is artifact vs. an accurate read of the brain’s electrical activity for a good result.
This is why it is important to obtain EEG readings from highly trained professionals rather than small business professionals who add neurofeedback to their list of services, but have no training on brain functioning.
What Are Neurofeedback Channels?
The number of channels refers to how many electrodes are embedded in a cap or placed directly on a patient’s scalp. For example, 19-channel neurofeedback means that 19 electrodes are reading the brain’s electrical activity. Neurofeedback can be done with any number of channels and many offices use older equipment that may only incorporate 2 channels. Using only 2 channels effectively only trains the areas between the 2 sites, which often leads to less of a training effect and the need for more neurofeedback sessions.
Neurofeedback uses baseline data to identify deviant brain regions by the number of standard deviations away from the norm. During neurofeedback sessions, reward conditioning is utilized by providing a visual stimulus as positive reinforcement when the brain spontaneously begins to function more efficiently. Through consistent reinforcements, the brain learns to function in a more balanced and healthy way.
How Many Neurofeedback Sessions Will I Need?
The number of sessions a person needs for neurofeedback to begin to produce significant improvements varies; but the brain begins to train and change following the first session. A typical treatment course usually consists of approximately 30 sessions but varies depending on how many areas in the brain are not optimized to start, how deviant the electrical activity is from normal, efficient functioning, and other factors such as age and health status. Neurofeedback can treat a variety of disorders and conditions including ADHD, PTSD, Anxiety Disorders, Depression, Mood Disorders, sleep difficulties, behavioral issues, and traumatic brain injury.