Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental health conditions that often begin in childhood and go all the way into a person’s adulthood.
There are therapies and medications that are designed to help increase focus, concentration, and attention as well as reduce hyperactivity.
There is also neurofeedback that has been designed for treating people with ADHD.
We look at the neurofeedback treatment for ADHD, what is involved, how effective it really is, and what researchers say about it.
Understanding The ADHD Condition Better
Based on a national parent study in 2016 conducted in the United States, the number of children ever to be diagnosed with ADHD came to about 6.1 million which is about 9.4% of the population (1).
Children aged 2 years to 5 years were about 388,000. Those between the age of 6 to 11 years were 4 million and those in the 12years to 17years age bracket were 3 million.
The study also revealed that boys have a higher chance of being diagnosed with ADHD at 12.9% than the girls at 5.6%.
The common symptoms associated with this disorder include forgetfulness, impulsivity, having a hard time focusing daydreaming, finding it hard to organize activities, making mistakes, and fidgeting.
It is also believed that 6 out of 10 children who are diagnosed with ADHD have another mental, behavioral or emotional disorder such as anxiety, depression, Tourette syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, and conduct or behavior problems.
The 2 popular interventions for ADHD are medication and behavioral treatment.
Neurofeedback is another form of treatment that is proving to be effective in dealing with ADHD. It involves understanding brain waves in the brain and altering them through training to make them similar to those of a healthy person.
How Neurofeedback Deals With ADHD
Neurofeedback involves observing the activity of the brain of the person with a disorder and understanding how their brain activity is like.
Afterward, the technician creates a specific brain training plan that will help improve the activity so that the brain functions much better.
Neurofeedback is also referred to as EEG (Electroencephalogram) biofeedback.
It is a treatment that focuses on brain waves. Brain waves are the electrical impulses produced when your brain cells send signals to each other.
Electrical activity creates brain wave patterns that affect our emotions and behavior among other aspects.
Ideally, neurofeedback compares the brain wave of a person who has a disorder to the brain waves of a healthy person and then trains the brain of the person with the disorder to maintain the brain activity like that of the healthy person.
In the case of ADHD, it has been found that about 90% of the people with ADHD have a higher theta-beta ratio which brings about a pattern that is linked to uneasiness and lost focus (5).
The neurofeedback training plan for ADHD involves working towards increasing the beta wave activity and reducing the theta wave activity.
The main aim of the training is to reduce hyperactivity present in ADHD patients and increase their levels of concentration.
When you go for treatment, you will have tiny metal electrodes placed on your head to help measure and read your brain wave activity.
The electrodes are connected to a screen through wires so that the readings of your brain activity are seen on the screen.
You will then be asked to perform different activities which include playing video games and music.
By doing these activities, you get to train your brain to concentrate better, naturally.
The activities of your brain are connected to these activities such that when you shift towards brain wave patterns that indicate higher focus and concentration, you win in the game and when you shift into negative brain wave patterns, you lose.
As you play, your brain is trained to maintain better and more positive brain wave patterns with relative ease, which in turn improves your health condition.
What Researchers Say About The Effectiveness of Neurofeedback For ADHD
The research studies that have been done on neurofeedback have brought mixed results, showing effectiveness in some cases and lack of it in other cases.
The first study in the potential of neurofeedback for ADHD involved 18 participants of ages between 5 years and 15 years.
These participants had not taken any psychotherapy or medication. The researchers took 9 of them, randomly chosen, and they were given neurofeedback training while the others acted as the control group (8).
The study found that the participants who had the neurofeedback training had improved in attention (based on ratings of their parents) and IQ.
However, this study has weaknesses such as not providing control for the attention training benefits, not providing EEG data recordings before the training and after, and parents’ expectations that their children had to improve since they had received a form of treatment.
And this makes it hard to confirm whether the improvements were due to the neurofeedback training or other possible reasons.
A placebo based study on neurofeedback that involved giving real neurofeedback training to some participants while making others think they also got the same real training, also concluded that both groups showed the same improvements (15).
This means that there is a possibility that the improvements were due to placebo.
While many neurofeedback training patients have reported huge improvements in attention and impulsivity and moderate improvements in hyperactivity, authors have asked that more research be done on this intervention (16).
Considering that the training has its own side effects such as mental exhaustion, and light sensitivity, dizziness and nausea for people who have brain trauma, not to mention that it may not work for everyone, there is need for developmental research as well as regulation of the treatment when used as a therapy.
It is also necessary to establish standards that are internationally accepted that focus on education and implementation of neurofeedback as well as qualifications for trainers and practitioners (17)(18).
Essentially, neurofeedback shows a lot of potential when it comes to treating ADHD, among other health conditions (19).
However, the mixed results from the research studies and the fact that it could be an expensive intervention for some people, it is something that needs thought and consideration before getting into it.
But with all that said, some experts recommend working with neurofeedback if you or your child experience strong negative effects with medication.