Improving Your Brain Function
By Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D.
Many conditions prevent a person's brain from performing at its best. Three of the most common conditions are ADD/ADHD, depression and head injury. Medication, psychotherapy and exercise are three frequently used methods of reducing the symptoms of these conditions. Sometimes additional methods, such as neurofeedback and biofeedback can assist in returning someone to improved performance.
Billy's mother called my office to inquire about neurofeedback and how it could help her 11 year old son. Her son had been diagnosed with ADHD for several years and was already taking 2 different medications, but Mrs. Moss was still unhappy with her son's behavior and grades. We scheduled an intake appointment for Billy.
Billy came in the next week. He started his appointment with a continuous performance test (called the TOVA or Test of Variables of Attention). The TOVA evaluates the level of impulsivity and attention a person has as compared to others in his/her age group. Next, Billy's mother and I talked about Billy's medical history, behavior and academic performance. At Billy's next appointment, I conducted a qEEG or quantitative brain map. This evaluation records the electrical activity in Billy's brain at 19 sites and displays the findings in color pictures that reflect how Billy's brain is operating.
Billy's brain had high levels of a frequency band called theta (4-7 Hz.) that is often seen in children and adults diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. The high levels of theta are linked to poor attention and poor impulse control. Billy's brain also had low levels of 12-15 Hz over the center and front of the brain which can also be linked to poor impulse control and poor attention, as well as sleep problems and bad hand writing.
The next week, Billy started his first neurofeedback training session. Billy was seated in a comfortable chair facing a computer screen and speakers. Sensors were placed on Billy's scalp at the sites where his brain needed to learn to operate in a different manner. I programmed the therapist's computer to reward Billy's brain with a visual reward on his computer screen and an auditory reward from the speakers when his brain produced the type of EEG he needed. Billy saw a game-like event happen on his screen and heard a short beeping sound when his brain did what it was asked.
Over the sessions, Billy's mother started to report that she was seeing changes in Billy's behavior. He was less oppositional about doing his homework. His grades gradually started to improve. His teacher told his mother that he was off task less at school and needed fewer reminders to turn in his homework. He was easier to get up in the morning for school and argued less with his parents.
Over the weeks, Billy continued his improvements until his mother took him back to his pediatrician and asked that his medication be reduced. His improvements remained after he reduced his medication. He continued to attend neurofeedback training and Billy and his mother told stories of improvements in many areas including handwriting, reading speed, getting along better with classmates at school, and generally being a happier child. One day Billy's mother said she was happy with the improvements Billy had achieved. He had gotten straight A's on his report card and had become good friends with a classmate. Mrs. Moss and Billy were both happy and concluded neurofeedback training.
Susan walked into the office with her mother. Susan had dropped out of college due to poor grades. She complained of depression and poor attention in school. Even though her mother was a health professional, she was at a loss to help her daughter get her life back on track and turned to me for assistance. The three of us reviewed Susan's history and symptoms. Susan had a qEEG to determine the sites and frequencies where her brain needed training. Her qEEG showed patterns of depression, ADD and a possible mild head injury from a car accident. She agreed to begin neurofeedback training.
At first, Susan had trouble getting to her appointments on time and sometimes missed appointments without calling to cancel. She seemed be indifferent to making progress but as she continued with her treatment, her attitude began to change. Susan began to arrive at all her appointments on time and her personal appearance improved. At this point, Susan obtained a job at a local business. She was not excited about the work but agreed that she needed to work to have money to do the activities and make the purchases that she wanted. After a few weeks, Susan talked about working to earn a promotion at work which she accomplished within a month. One day as I was reviewing her progress, Susan revealed that she had slowly been weaning herself off her antidepressant medication and was completely off the medication. A few weeks later, she told me that she had managed to stop smoking completely with the help of nicotine gum and was also weaning herself off the gum. The most noticeable difference in Susan was here smile and sense of humor. She had become a real pleasure to be around. Susan's treatment involved training her left frontal cortex to decrease her depression, training different frequencies in the front and center of her cortex to control ADD symptoms and training different sites on her cortex to communicate with each other.
At this point in time, Susan was laid off from her employment due to economic problems in the company. Susan expressed an interest in returning to college. She contacted her college advisor and was told she could attend summer school on a probation basis. If she did well, she could return as a full time student in the fall. Susan returned to summer school and performed better than ever. She was accepted back for the fall semester and continued her education until she graduated and was on the Dean's list her final year. Susan and her mother expressed their happiness with her improvement in her life and education with the assistance of neurofeedback training.
Linda called me in tears. She was a teacher and was having a lot of difficulty performing her job. She fallen down her front porch steps about six months before and had not been able to focus on her job since. She especially had difficultly with the clerical aspects of recording grades and test scores for her students. She also suffered from frequent severe headaches and was experiencing stress and depression. She had seen several doctors including a neurologist who told her there was nothing physically wrong with her and that she should see a psychiatrist for medication and a counselor for psychological therapy. Linda had tried both but neither helped her to improve her performance on the tasks she had to do to meet the performance standards of her employment. She also told me that she was sure that her problems were related to her fall.
Linda had a qEEG performed and the results verified Linda's suspicions. She had a problem in her brain with different sites communicating poorly with each other. Linda was quite relieved to learn the results. She was tired of telling herself that she was "crazy." Linda started neurofeedback training. The first change she noticed was an improvement in her sleep. The improved rest helped her manage her day better and enjoy the teaching aspects of her job.
Linda also learned a type do biofeedback called Heart Rate Variability training. This technique helped Linda calm and focus herself using her breathing and her thoughts. She reported that she could use this skill throughout the day to help her manage her stress and it improved her ability to focus on the needs of her students. The frequency of her headaches was starting to decrease.
Linda was still struggling with the clerical aspects of her work but one day she came in and said while it was still stressful she was starting to complete those tasks in less time and she was able give the needed report to administration on time. Over time, Linda continued to have fewer headaches and her ability to perform in the classroom improved. She started to smile when she came for appointments and reported that her mood was improving. She was beginning enjoy socializing with her family and other teachers again. Linda was able to function more like her "old self" and was not fearful about losing her position. Linda had successfully recovered from the injury to her brain that she experienced from her fall.
Neurofeedback and biofeedback can assist children and adults in improving their function in daily life. The qEEG analysis can determine the areas and frequencies where the brain needs training. The neurofeedback training is individualized for every client using a variety of neurofeedback techniques and equipment.
Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D., is the owner of Neurofeedback Associates, Inc. and has been providing neurofeedback and biofeedback since 2000. She has been certified by the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance for over ten years and has experience providing services to people with a wide range of problems and disabilities.
Published in Natural Triad, April 2011