If you or someone you love struggles with neurological or mental health disorders, you know how difficult it can be.
Oftentimes, it seems the only treatments to alleviate symptoms or modify behaviors involve pharmaceuticals or invasive procedures. Sometimes both.
That’s what makes the new field of neurofeedback therapy so exciting. It’s a modality that utilizes an EEG (electroencephalogram) to measure the electrical signals of one’s brain, thenuse sound or visual signals to reorganize or retrain those signals.
It’s a drug-free exercise for the brain.
The Frequency Bands of the Brain
In order to get a better understanding of how neurofeedback, or EEG therapy, works, it’s important to understand the four divisions of electrical impulses made by our brain. They are the Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. These are the frequency bands of the brain.
In neurofeedback therapy, the EEG measures the brainwaves of these different frequencies through electrodes placed on specific sites on the scalp. A frequency is the number of times a wave repeats itself within a second.
When frequencies in these different regions are deficient, excessive, or difficult to access, it affects mental performance.
Delta accounts for the lowest frequencies. They fall in the 0.1 to 3.5 Hz range and occur in deep sleep. These are also the dominant rhythm in infants for the first twelve months of their lives.
The brain accesses information from the unconscious mind through Delta. It will naturally increase Delta waves when there’s a need to decrease awareness of the physical world.
People who are adept at highly focusing have brains that decrease Delta waves when that focus is required. Individuals with Attention Deficit Disorder, however, seem to increase this activity when attempting to focus. This has a negative impact on their ability to focus and leaves them in a perpetual sleepy state.
Slower activity is dominated by theta brainwaves. These are in the 3.5 to 7.5 Hz range and are associated with intuition, creativity, intuition, fantasizing, and daydreaming. They’re also the repository for memories, sensations, and emotions.
It’s dominant both in that state between waking and sleeping, as well as in those who are engaged in meditation, prayer, or spiritual awareness. For children up to the age of 13, it is a normal state. However, it is abnormal in awake adults.
Normal functioning theta waves promote adaptive behaviors such as learning and memory. Abnormal functioning, however, has been observed in those with behavioral inhibition or activation, as well as in those with anxiety.
In the 8 -12 Hz range are the alpha waves.
Healthy alpha production represents the ability to move quickly and efficiently to accomplish tasks. Yet, it also denotes mental resourcefulness, and the ability to achieve an overall sense of relaxation and fatigue. Thus, when alpha is dominant, most people feel at peace.
Alpha replaces theta as the dominant wavelength in individuals over the age of 13 with optimal brain function. It is also believed that alpha bridges the bag between the conscious and the subconscious. Extroverts and those in a creative state show alpha dominance. They experience good moods and a sense of calmness.
Researchers believe that alpha rhythms are derived from the white matter of the brain – the part of the brain that connects all parts with each other. Thus, in terms of learning and using information, alpha is one of the brain’s most important frequencies and a deficit could signal learning challenges.
Coming in at 12Hz or higher is beta activity. The beta band has a large range that is further subdivided into low beta, midrange beta, and high beta.
On the lower end, beta is generally thought of as the normal rhythm experienced when awake and alert. Most of the brain is in a beta state when in the act of judgment, decision making, analytical problem-solving, and processing information.
When beta dips over to the high end and goes into overdrive though, it can result in anxiety or nervousness.
Gamma is measured between 30 and 44Hz. It’s the only frequency group located in every part of the brain. When a person needs to process information from different areas of the brain simultaneously, it’s believed that the 40Hz activity consolidates those needed areas to enable that processing.
When gamma activity is efficient and well-regulated, it is associated with a good memory. On the other hand, where there is a 40Hz deficiency, learning challenges are often noted.
So How Does Neurofeedback Therapy Work?
There are countless clinical studies pointing to the efficacy of neurofeedback therapy. Learn more here about them.
What it essentially comes down to though is detecting the various brainwaves we just discussed and understanding where there is an excess and where there is a deficit.
A patient receiving neurofeedback therapy will have electrodes applied to her scalp to track brainwave activity. The data is sent to a computer where the software detects when the brainwaves are properly ordered.
Then, using a program similar to a video game, the patient watches the graphics or listens to music while her brain and central nervous system receive feedback signals from the program. This is often done in the form of a video game.
Through that game or other activity, the program starts directing her brainwave activity toward more desirable and controlled patterns. Once her brainwave patterns improve, she gets immediate feedback from the program.
So it’s the patient’s brainwaves that are controlling the game or other activity. Observing this dynamic allows the brain to learn how to improve its own regulation.
It’s not a one-and-done deal though.
Neurofeedback therapy is typically administered once per week, and sessions run for an average of 20 weeks. Some people require more sessions, while others won’t need even 20. It varies from person to person depending on the neurological condition.
But in the end, this completely non-invasive and drug-free therapy is making a difference in so many peoples’ lives.
Could Neurofeedback Therapy Be Right for You?
If you’re suffering symptoms and troubling behaviors due to a neurological issue, neurofeedback therapy is certainly worth looking into. You have nothing to lose and potentially, so much to gain.
And stay tuned to our blog for other articles on current cutting-edge topics.