What Is Neurofeedback in ADHD?

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Neurofeedback is one of the many nontraditional or alternative or complementary treatments available. Here is a brief introduction to neurofeedback and ADHD.

What is it?
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback. Biofeedback is a technique that allows you to be aware of how your body is functioning. You are connected to a machine using electrical sensors and you can get information (or feedback) on your body (bio). For example, you heart rate. With this real-time information, you can practice techniques that influence your body and monitor their effect. The idea is, when you know how to influence your body, you can do it in other settings too.

Neurofeedback is biofeedback for the brain.

The goal of neurofeedback, when you have ADHD, is to retrain your brain waves, so they act similar to brainwaves of someone without ADHD. The theory is, if your brain waves change, then the symptoms could too.

During a neurofeedback session, a cap with electrodes is placed on your head (don’t worry, it is painless) and attached to an EEG machine. Your brain waves are displayed on a computer screen, which a practitioner monitors.

During the session, you perform a computer activity.

Goals vary depending on your practitioner’s protocol. However,an example would be to move a character in a video game by creating a spurt of focus. When you lose focus, the game stops. Your brain waves are recorded throughout the session.

Does it work?
Neurofeedback hasn’t been tested in large, double-blind studies in the way that ADHD medication has. Because of that, people are critical of its effectiveness in reducing ADHD symptoms. The studies that have been done often produce conflicting information.

Some studies found that it isn’t effective (Arnold et al. 2013); others say it might be, but more research would be needed before it could be recommended as a solo treatment for ADHD (Steiner et al. 2014).

While scientists in Holland published an analysis of recent international studies, found neurofeedback for ADHD was ‘clinically meaningful’.

Practical considerations
Sessions typically cost approx $100 and aren’t usually covered by insurance plans. 40 or more sessions are usually required (Hinshaw and Ellison 2016).

At the beginning, treatment sessions are often 2 times a week. This time, investment can make it logistically difficult for some people (Tuckman 2007).

Who is it for?
Children and adults can have neurofeedback.

One of the concerns about Neurofeedback is the small amount of training required to become a neurofeedback practitioner. Some training programs are less than 5 days in length (Tuckman 2007). Getting effective treatment of any kind relies on working with a skilled practitioner. Carry out research in your area to find a qualified and knowledgeable therapist.

A concern that Stephen P. Hinshaw and Katherine Ellison express in their book, ADHDWhat Everyone Needs to Know, is that people might invest their time and money in neurofeedback instead of traditional treatments that are known to be effective.

Ari Tuckman (2007) says a person might become discouraged about ADHD treatments in general if the nontraditional approach didn’t work. Then, they are less willing to try established and proven treatments to help their ADHD symptoms.

In conclusion
If you have an interest in neurofeedback and the finances to cover the treatment, it could be an option to explore. But only as an addition to other scientifically proven treatments (Ramsay 2010).

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Article Sources

  • Ari Tuckman, Integrative Treatment for Adult ADHD, New Harbinger publications, Inc  2007
  • Arnold, L. E., N. Lofthouse, S. Hersch, X Pan, E.Hurt, B.Bates, K. Kassouf, S. Moone, and C. Grantier. 2013. EEG Neurofeedback for ADHD: Double-blind sham-controlled randomized pilot feasibility trial. Journal of Attention Disorders 17 (5): 410-419.
  • Ramsay, J.R 2010. Nonmedication Treatments for Adult ADHD: Evaluating Impact on Daily Functioning and Well-Being. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association 
  • Steiner, N. J., C. Frenette, K M.Rene, R.T. Brennan, and E.C.Perrin. 2014. In-school neurofeedback training for ADHD: Sustained improvements from a randomized control trial. Paediatrics 133(3): 483-492.
  • Stephen.P.Hinshaw, Katherine Ellison What Everyone Needs To Know, Oxford University Press, 2016