EEG Biofeedback as a Treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

In this form of treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder the subject learns to pay attention to his own brain wave activity, and then apparently learns to change and control his brain wave activity. The subject is given immediate feedback on just what his brain's activity is like at any given moment through the use of high-speed computers which provide both auditory and visual feedback.

This is a very good technology when combined with a good clinician and a motivated subject. We provided EEG Biofeedback training in our practice for over ten years. The variety of people that we saw in our office was amazing, from head injured people, to ADHD kids, to professional athletes and business executives (for peak performance training or stress management).

Lots of studies are being published even as we speak. The intervention has been around for about 25 years, but mostly in the "ivory towers" of the universities and labs until just the past ten years. There are about 1000 providers in USA at present time. The intervention works for about 70%-75% of kids who come for treatment for ADHD, depending on factors such as what exactly the cause of the problem is, the severity of their problem, their IQ, motivation levels, and the number of sessions provided.

Double-blind studies vs. Clinical studies

Here are my thoughts about research studies for this intervention, and about the criticism of these studies from the pharmaceutical industry. There has been a lot of bad mouthing about the supposed "lack of research" from the medical community and from psychologists who receive their funding from pharmaceutical companies regarding EEG Biofeedback. Yet, there really is quite a bit of published research out there. The critics just don't like what's out there because they are "clinical studies" rather than "double blind" studies.

Double blind studies are great for pills, where you can fool the subjects into thinking that they are taking some medication when they are really only taking a sugar pill placebo. But there are a lot of things worth studying in life that you simply can't do double blind studies with.

For example, weight lifting.

Could you do a study with a placebo in weight lifting? No you could not.

What would you do if you wanted to know if weight lifting made people stronger? You would test them at the beginning of the study to see how strong they were, then you would have them lift for a couple of months, and then you would retest them. In simple, that's what you'd do. In the health field that type of study is called a "clinical study."

Most of the studies on EEG biofeedback training want to know, "Is the patient better or worse after having done X number of EEG biofeedback sessions?" Three out of four times the subjects are better off having done the training.

We personally provided EEG biofeedback training in our practice for ten years. Most of our patients liked it very much. As we mentioned earlier, we have worked with a wide assortment of patients from head injured, autistic spectrum disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder -- ADHD, up to professional athletes who wanted "peak performance training." Just think of it as weight lifting for the brain.

Might it help your child?

EEG biofeedback training works best with subjects who have average to high IQ, are seven years old or older, can sit still for a few minutes if interested in what he's doing, and are motivated people. It works much less well for those with low IQ, or are very young, or who couldn't sit still under any circumstances, or those who "don't want to be here." The worst results are with 14 to 17 year olds who have been dragged to treatment by their mothers and don't want to be there.

The "Dark Side" of the intervention is the cost. Treatment sessions range from $50/session up to $150/session, depending on the provider and the part of the country you live in. The usual course of treatment is two to four treatment sessions per week, for a total of about 25 to 40 sessions. However, we have seen some people do very well in as few as five sessions.

Our experience is that 65% to 75% of Attention Deficit Disorder - ADD ADHD individuals receive benefit from this intervention. Results are usually slow but steady. Realistically plan on needing about 30 to 40 sessions (30-40 minutes each session). We believe that the results of EEG biofeedback training can be enhanced significantly by using the Nutraceutical ATTEND while undergoing the neurofeedback training. We cannot prove this with research, but that has been our experience.

You can learn more about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and various treatment options for ADHD at the ADHD Information Library.

Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., is a family therapist who has been working with ADHD children and their families since 1986. He is the clinical director of the ADHD Information Library's family of seven web sites, including http://www.newideas.net, helping over 350,000 parents and teachers learn more about ADHD each year. Dr. Cowan also serves on the Medical Advisory Board of VAXA International of Tampa, FL., is President of the Board of Directors for KAXL 88.3 FM in central California, and is President of NewIdeas.net Incorporated.

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