Neurofeedback for Attention and ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

3 August, 2010 (14:10) | ADD and ADHD, attention

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – is one of the most common conditions for which people come to get neurofeedback brain training.

Why? And how is the training helpful?

ADHD – and I include not-very-hyperactive ADD – often goes along with concentration problems. You have to pay attention at school, do maths homework, remember to drive to the post office before going to the supermarket, take an important document to a meeting. And somehow you don’t manage to do it. You feel sleepy, in a bit of a daze, even though you know the tasks are important and you want to do them. So what’s happening?

Well, if you look at the brainwaves produced by a neuro-typical brain – belonging to a person who has no problems with concentrating – you would usually see lots of nice busy reasonably-fast beta waves when they’re doing tasks like these. But if you look at the brain of someone who always finds it hard to concentrate, you would typically see lots of slow theta waves just at the point when they’re looking at the maths problem or setting off for the shops.

But theta waves are usually produced when you’re falling asleep! So you’re trying to concentrate and your brain goes sleepy!  

No wonder it’s a problem to pay attention. No wonder you look to the outside world as though you’re bored, with that sleepy look to your face!

So the aim of doing neurofeedback would be to train your brain to produce less theta activity and more beta activity. If we’re using the spaceship game as feedback – and adults enjoy this just as much as kids – we’d set it up so that the spaceship moves when you produce more beta and the screen goes fuzzy when you produce too much theta. Your aim is to keep the picture on the screen nice and sharp (keep theta down) and make the spaceship move as fast as you can (keep beta up). Your brain quickly figures out for itself what it needs to do to make these things happen. (“Hey, that spaceship moved. That’s good. What did I just do? Was it that? Oh, yes, look, it’s moving again. Must do more of that!”)

And so you get to learn what it feels like to concentrate. You get to practise concentrating and build up your “brain concentration muscles”. (OK, brains don’t have muscles, but it seems very similar to weight training when you’re doing it.) As we continue training we get you to do tasks that require concentration at the same time as you’re getting feedback, so that you can transfer your new skill to real life – being able to pilot a spaceship by brain power alone is good, but you do need to do more everyday things!

Of course, as I always say, this is a generalisation of what we see in the brainwaves of a brain whose person has ADHD, and an assessment gives a more detailed picture of your own unique brain and what it does when you give it a task. Do follow up the research on neurofeedback for ADHD – the International Society for Neurofeedback Research has a good bibliography.

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