Neurofeedback- video games are useful after all!

In a  comment on someone’s post about alternative autism treatments I mentioned neurofeedback therapy.  I stumbled across this intervention while researching autism for my education class, so for the sake of the reader I did not really provide many details about HOW it works, but I was still pretty curious so I tried to find more information on the process.  First of all, it was very hard to find information beyond case studied and correlational results that simply stated improvements and progress for many patients.  I found a cool website, EEG Spectrum International (http://www.eegspectrum.com/IntroToNeuro/) that uses neurofeedback (they refer to it as biofeedback) to help alleviate symptoms from a huge variety of disorders.  Some of the disorders mentioned were ADHD/ADD, anxiety, DEPRESSION, chronic pain, epilepsy, ADDICTION, and autism.  (Note the subtle emphasis on the topics we’ve covered… perhaps this is the common link in addition to stress – I bet it’s been used for schizophrenia, too!)  Anyway, I’ll just explain a bit about how neurofeedback is used for people with autism.

First, baseline EEG levels over the course of several hours are taken and clinicians work with their patients to determine which behaviors they would like to modify.  The clinicians program a computer to detect abnormalities and to know the alterations that must be made to bring brain activity in that region back to normal.  Sensors are placed on the scalp, and one on each ear, and are connected to a computer processing system that registers the brain waves and (somehow) integrates it into a sort of video game.  For example, when brain activity in a desirable region increases, the game will speed up (or the patient will be rewarded in some other way), and when brain activity in an undesirable region increases, the game will be slowed down/inhibited.  Over many trials, the brain presumably “learns” this new brain activity and the person can train him or herself  to maintain that activity.  The new activity pattern more closely resembles those of pathology-free patients.

The benefits of neurofeedback therapy differ from person to person, as each individuals’ goals are different.  Results suggest that it may be more beneficial for individuals with Asperger’s than severe autism, as the patient must be able to engage with the video screen and computer game for a significant amount of time (about 40 minutes), and must be able to tolerate the EEG paraphanelia on his/her body (this can be tough due to hypo/hyper-sensitivity tendencies, and may require some prior training).  As for the duration of these effects, this site claims that most patients see improvements by at least their tenth session, and that in general the effects will last indefinitely (though stressors can degrade this newly learned pattern and “booster” sessions may be required).  Do you think that this could be a useful and successful therapy for other disorders as well?

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3 thoughts on “Neurofeedback- video games are useful after all!

  1. Hannah, funny you should write about this! I mentioned it in one of my posts when we were studying addiction as a method of treatment! It’s really interesting stuff in how they get patients to “train” their own brain waves… I’m not sure if it really works, but apparently it has been noted to treat patients with addictions, as well as other disorders you mentioned. I’m not sure how well I would do at managing my own brain waves…

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  2. This is really interesting–during my research on ptsd treatments i read a lot if things very similar to this– using video games as a sort of therapy. It seems like this mode of therapy has a lot of possibility.

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  3. Wow, this sounds like some really cutting edge stuff! I wonder what kind of specific regional anomalies one might find in an autistic patient vs a schizophrenic patient vs a normal person… It also seems a little presumptuous that increased cortical activity alone will lead to improvements in behavior, but hey, these researchers know a lot more about this stuff than me, and I’ll bet they ran tons of pilot studies on all of this. I wonder how well it works and what are all of the different kinds of pathologies that this technique can be used to treat.

    -Michael S.

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