Neurofeedback for ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects about 6 million American children today. The most common way ADHD is treated is with medication. Often stimulants are used, such as Adderall or Ritalin, which are supposed to help the child stay focused. The problem with ADHD is the brain is not processing information as quickly as needed, so the child gets distracted more easily. As a result, they experience more related symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. In fact, depression is commonly misdiagnosed as ADHD in children today. When these children come see us at Spring Grove Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, it is our job to figure out what type of difficulty they are having: Is it a focusing issue? Is it a learning issue? Is it a comprehension issue? ADHD is more complex that just not being able to pay attention in class, so just taking a pill isn’t going to solve all the issues someone may be experiencing.
Biofeedback for the Brain
Neurofeedback is a way to train brain activity; essentially, biofeedback for the brain. The goal is to get your brain’s responses to certain situations to change or improve. For example, someone is at basketball practice making 95% of their free throws, but in a game situation when the pressure is on, they are only making 50% of their free throws. The stress of the situation prevents them from performing at their best level. They have the ability to succeed, as they did in practice, but the external stressors are throwing off their focus. Neurofeedback training helps improve your response to these stressful situations so you are better able to handle them. In terms of ADHD, it can help your child’s brain learn to become more attentive when it needs to be.
ADHD is not who you are. It is a condition that can be treated.
How can we control our emotions or our autonomic system? How do we remain calm in stressful situations? With neurofeedback, we first do a diagnostic test called a qEEG where we do a mapping of the brain and look at the different brain wave patterns. The results will show us what parts of the brain are overacting and what parts are under performing.
We all have brain waves that control our emotions, our intelligence and our sleep. If we find in a certain area of the brain that there is hyperactivity (in ADHD patients, in the frontal lobe, which causes a lot of impulsivity or distraction) through neurofeedback, we can lower that hyperactivity in that part of the brain. We have found we are able to make positive changes in the brain of an ADHD patient or a someone who has processing issues, which will allow them to learn how to remain calm under stressful situations.
How We Use Neurofeedback Therapy
For neurofeeback training, we put a helmet with sensors on the patient’s head to measure the brainwave pattern that is currently occurring. The patient will either watch a TV show or play a brain game that is connected to their brain wave patterns. When playing the brain game, the patient has to try to focus or use their “brain power” in order to complete a task. What is really occurring is the brain is being trained to focus and be more attentive towards the task at hand. If the patient undergoes the therapy in which they watch a TV show, a dimmer screen is put over the TV show and it will constantly change the lighting of the screen. If the patient maintains the proper brain wave pattern we are trying to elicit, the screen stays lit. If the patient’s brain wave pattern changes or they start to feel stress, the screen will dim. Overall, good brain wave patterns will keep the screen lit.
The brain has to figure out subconsciously how to maintain the brightness of the screen. It will not stay lit the entire time, but if you can keep the screen lit at least 60% of the time, that’s considered a victory. Over time, this therapy will help them be able to respond to stressful situations and manage stress better. The patient learns how it feels when he or she is concentrating. This will then give the patient’s brain more control to “create” brain waves than can reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
There are many different conditions that neurofeedback can treat. So whether you’re coming to Spring Grove Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for ADHD or for a concussion, we can now alter your brain’s plasticity using neurofeedback training. In theory, your child can use the neurofeedback sensors as a guide to help them learn to keep their brain active while concentrating or performing certain tasks. This can help them develop successful strategies to use during stressful situations when they are no longer attached to the sensors.
ADHD and the Eyes
Often these kids have issues with their eyes, such as tracking problems and convergence problems. Acuity is not so much the issue as is the eyes not working well together. There are certain eye movements or eye exercises that we use to help challenge the brain or figure out what part of the brain is being affected from their learning or sensory disability. You can really learn from the eyes. For example, our brain utilizes tracking for reading. If a child comes in and says they don’t read very well, they have a hard time reading or it takes them a long time to read something, it’s usually because their tracking mechanism is very poor.
If that’s the case, you can make the child read as much as you want, but if he doesn’t track very well, it’s not going to make a difference. We have found that doing eye exercises with these patients is very helpful for them. When they come to see us, they know how to read — their brain just doesn’t do it very well. If we can make reading more efficient for them, it will not bother them as much and they may actually start enjoying reading because it’s no longer taking them two hours to read something that should only take them 20 minutes.
The Vestibular System
Other than doing eye exercises for ADHD patients, there are also vestibular therapies that we utilize. The vestibular system, which most people equate to balance, actually controls a lot of other neurological functions as well. It’s also a timing mechanism, and timing is everything. Timing controls thought, speech, reading, sleeping, walking, and many other basic yet vital human functions.
Timing is everything.
This is another component of ADHD, as well as concussion and post-stroke conditions. We can help fine tune the vestibular system through vestibular exercises such as balance, the GyroStim, or the interactive metronome. These are the tools that we use to affect the vestibular system and make positive changes to its functioning. If your vestibular system is working more efficiently, your timing gets better and concentration becomes easier.