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Neurofeedback for ADHD

  The use of neurofeedback for psychiatric problems depends on recent understanding about these diseases. In the 1960s, when biofeedback was developed as a therapy, schizophrenia and attention deficit were considered mainly the result of emotional trauma or poor upbringing. Consequently, biofeedback practitioners first focused on obviously physical problems. Now scientists understand better the electrical and chemical components of mental illness, creating opportunities for neurofeedback.

  Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) use neurofeedback games to reduce theta waves and increase beta waves, increasing their attentiveness. Joel Lubar, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who originated neurofeedback treatment for ADHD in the 1970s, says neurofeedback can produce some of the same brain wave changes as drugs used to treat the disorder.

  In a 1998 study published in the December issue of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, researchers in Ontario, Canada, taught ADHD patients biofeedback and learning strategies. They found a significant improvement in symptoms (such as impulsiveness and inattention) after 40 EEG biofeedback sessions, as well as a change in the ratio of beta to theta waves.

"Biofeedback can not only help a child use brain waves they don't usually employ, but it may also help increase blood flow to specific parts of the brain involved with ADHD," says Lubar. "Used with behavior therapies that incorporate classroom and homework skills, neurofeedback can help these children become less dependent on stimulants like Ritalin."

  More than 700 groups nationwide are using EEG biofeedback for ADD/ADHD, according to the Association for Applied Psychotherapy and Biofeedback, an organization of biofeedback practitioners. The ADHD therapists have reported that patients experienced a 60 to 80 percent significant improvement in symptoms and much less need for medicine.

Dr. J. Alan Cook, a psychiatrist in Mt. Vernon, Washington, uses it for 25 to 35 percent of his patients, treating such problems as depression, addiction, bipolar disorder and ADHD. "Once the training has been completed, patients seem to retain the benefits long term," he says.

  Crossing a new frontier in neurotherapy, researchers from London, England, reported in the December 1999 International Journal of Psychophysiology that a group of schizophrenic people had used neurofeedback to create some of the same electrical patterns that schizophrenia drugs produce in the brain. Though the investigators couldn't tell from this short experiment how the neurofeedback might affect the patients' symptoms, they considered it a successful first step toward developing a new treatment.

As scientists understand better how the brain works -- or fails to work -- they are finding more and more ways it can heal itself.

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