Use of EEG Biofeedback To Treat Attention Deficit Disorders
Along with autism, Tourette's syndrome, and mild inattention, attention deficit disorder and its variant, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, fall along an attentional disease spectrum. These neurologically based disorders affect a significant portion of school-aged children, producing maladaptive social features including oppositional behavior, excessive distractibility, and impulsiveness. Such a hyperalertness to distraction makes it nearly impossible for them to remain attentive in the classroom, and school performance often suffers as a result.
Chemical stimulants have been the traditional treatment for ADD/ADHD for some time. They have been effective in producing impressive cognitive and behavioral effects. Nevertheless, the use of stimulants can also have lifelong negative consequences for children who rely on them to increase classroom attentiveness in the relative short term.
Therefore, researchers have attempted to find an alternative ADD/ADHD treatment that produces similar results while reducing or eliminating the negative side effects of stimulant medication. After numerous studies showing positive results, they have concluded that neuro-biofeedback with EEG may be the solution they seek.
Negative Effects of Chemical Stimulants
The stimulant medications used in treating ADD/ADHD belong to the amphetamine family. Needless to say, doctors are careful when prescribing such medications to children in doses that are safe and effective. Nevertheless, prolonged use of stimulants to treat symptoms of ADD/ADHD could make a child more susceptible to addiction in the future.
One aspect of addiction is dependence on the drug. This can be physical and/or psychological. Without meaning to, society has encouraged children's dependence on stimulants to control ADD/ADHD symptoms by nonverbally sending the message that self-control is impossible for the child without the medication. The child may internalize this message and subconsciously convince herself that she "needs" the medication to function.
Another downside of using chemical stimulants to treat ADD/ADHD is that, while they can help a child to focus his attention in school so that he can learn, it may make the information inaccessible except when the medication is present in his system. This is called state dependence.
Brain Wave Patterns of ADD/ADHD Patients
Because of the biological basis of ADD/ADHD, it is possible to measure the brain waves of affected children with electroencephalogram. Patients with attention deficit disorders demonstrate a consistent, identifiable brain wave pattern. Their slow wave shows high amplitudes. Distractibility in attention deficit patients is associated with high Theta amplitudes. On the other hand, people who demonstrate concentration and focus tend to show peaks in the low Beta amplitude of 12-15 Hz.
EEG is not only useful for identifying brain wave patterns that occur in ADD/ADHD patients. It can also be utilized in biofeedback to help the patient learn to control her symptoms. Research has proven biofeedback to show good results in treating ADD/ADHD patients, comparable to the effects of stimulant medications.
Benefits of Biofeedback
The purpose of EEG biofeedback for ADD/ADHD patients is to train the patient to modify the amplitude of his slow wave pattern. This is not a quick fix but a time-intensive process that takes place over multiple sessions. The number of sessions required varies by patient; some require as many as 40 while others may need as little as five. Some patients have begun to show positive results after only one session. Nevertheless, as a general rule, a patient with ADD/ADHD often needs more biofeedback training to receive the desired end result than patients with other conditions on the attentional disorder spectrum with motoric symptoms.
Biofeedback produces good results for patients with ADD/ADHD. Because the modality is noninvasive and nonchemical, it does not produce the negative side effects that stimulant medications can. In fact, the risks involved in using biofeedback are practically nonexistent.
Rather than teaching children to become dependent on stimulant drugs for control of their symptoms, biofeedback shows them how to become self-regulating. The ultimate goal of the biofeedback sessions is to gradually teach the patient how to produce the same results on his own, without the need for EEG biofeedback. Not only does this help to decrease symptoms and improve concentration, attention, and learning ability, it also helps to improve self-esteem in children who use biofeedback for ADD/ADHD symptom control.
Discoveries Through Research
Joel Lubar, Ph.D., began researching EEG biofeedback on children with attention deficit disorders 15 years ago. His research showed that the IQ scores, grades, and overall behavior of children with ADD/ADHD improve when they learn self-regulatory skills through biofeedback.
Further research shows that the improvement in attention deficit symptoms from EEG biofeedback can continue into the long term as well as the short term. Subsequent to treatment, Michael Tansey, Ph.D., substantiated the treatment's longevity in a 10-year followup report on the patients involved.
Case Study of an Individual Patient
One 12-year-old girl received a recommendation for EEG biofeedback following a diagnosis of moderate attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity. She was identified as a possible candidate due to her mother's report of problems with academic performance and maladaptive behavior in school. An EEG confirmed the typical brain wave pattern.
Following seven weeks of EEG biofeedback sessions, the patient's improvement in school performance impressed her teacher, who was not aware that treatment took place. Though the course required multiple sessions, the patient began learning to suppress her high Theta wave amplitudes within the first session.
EEG monitoring supported the girl's subjective report that her high-amplitude Theta activity returned to previous levels when the effort to control it during biofeedback decreased. This evidence, along with other studies, supports the use of biofeedback as a valuable modality for treating conditions along the attentional disorder spectrum in children.