Chris DeWald: Neurofeedback

Column by Chris DeWald
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Neurofeedback is a technique in which the brain is trained to help improve its ability to regulate all bodily functions and to take care of itself. When the brain is not functioning well, evidence of this often shows up in the EEG (electroencephalogram). By challenging the brain, much as you challenge your body in physical exercise, your brain learns to function better.

A better-functioning brain can improve sleep patterns. When you sleep more efficiently, you are more alert during the day. It can help with anxiety and depression, and with syndromes like migraine or chronic pain. Secondly, it can be helpful in managing attention – how well you can persist even at a boring task. Thirdly, it can help you manage the emotions. Emotions may feel like the real you, but your brain has a lot to say about how you feel and react. If the emotions are out of control, that’s trainable. If they aren’t there—as in lack of empathy, for example—that, too, is trainable.

Finally, there are some specific issues where the EEG neurofeedback training can be helpful, such as in cases of seizures, traumatic brain injury, stroke and autism. In these instances the training does not so much get rid of the problem as it simply organizes the brain to function better in the context of whatever injury or loss exists.

Since I live with the effects of a stroke, this caught my interest. A presentation was done by the Staunton/Augusta Brain Injury Group and two of the members do this treatment. The caregivers were astonished from the results of receiving this therapy. The closest doctors who offer this treatment, at the time, were in Charlottesville.


How does neurofeedback work?

The doctor applies electrodes to the scalp to listen in on brainwave activity. They process the signal by computer, and we extract information about certain key brainwave frequencies. (All brainwave frequencies are equal, but some are more equal than others….) They show the ebb and flow of this activity back to the person, who attempts to change the activity level. Some frequencies they wish to promote. Others they wish to diminish. The doctors present this information to the person in the form of a video game. The person is effectively playing the video game with his or her brain. Eventually the brainwave activity is “shaped” toward more desirable, more regulated performance. The frequencies they target, and the specific locations on the scalp where they listen in on the brain, are specific to the conditions they are trying to address, and specific to the individual.


How is neurofeedback used to train an individual’s unique brain?

Over the years, certain neurofeedback (EEG biofeedback) training protocols have been developed that are helpful with certain classes of problems such as attention, anxiety and depression, seizures and migraines, as well as cognitive function. There are a number of assessment tools we use to help us decide which protocols to use. These are simple neurodiagnostic and neuropsychological tests.


What conditions are neurofeedback/EEG biofeedback successful in helping?

There are especially concerned with the more “intractable” brain-based problems of childhood whose needs are not currently being met.
This includes:
· Seizures and sub-clinical seizure activity
· Severely disruptive behavior disorders such as Conduct Disorder and Bipolar Disorder.
· Autistic spectrum and pervasive developmental delay.
· Cerebral palsy
· Acquired brain injury
· Birth trauma

Many children have sleep problems that can be helped:
· Bed wetting
· Sleep walking, sleep talking
· Teeth grinding
· Nightmares
· Night terrors

It can also be helpful with many of the problems of adolescence:
· Drug abuse
· Suicidal behavior
· Anxiety and depression

It can also help to maintain good brain function as people get older. The good news is that almost any brain, regardless of its level of function, can be trained to function better.

One of the residuals from my stroke involves “executive function.” In other words being able to chew bubble gum and walk at the same time. I had visited my general physician in the city and asked if there was some type of doctor that can help me become more focused. I also have had “horror dreams” for at least four years every night. It was time to become more focused. I contacted Ronald W. Brill, Ph.D. whose office is located in the offices of Drs. Kuley, Ryan and Associates, PC. in the Staunton Medical Center.

This is amazing treatment for me. I have had four sessions as of writing this article

And my terror dreams have been reduced from every night to twice a week.

I am able to concentrate better and have been able to become more multi tasked. Without the frustrations that are included with most strokes, I am calmer without having the constant anger issues. I am not saying it does not occur, but my thoughts are more focused and therefore able to resolve daily life issues that were once impeding the way I was.

Research this treatment as I did and now utilize it. It works for my needs. If you have questions about this treatment, please call Dr. Brill at 540.886.3956 ext 114.

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