Treating mental illness has never been an easy or short task. But what if the process can be controlled entirely by the patient, and is as interesting as playing video games? This idea, call neurofeedback, and was relegated to the realm of pseudoscience for decades. However, new research has set off a revolution in this field.
Practitioners of neurofeedback are anticipating a procedure that harnesses brainwave activity for the treatment of various health conditions. The process works in this way: the therapist affixes a patient’s scalp with various electrodes, which will target the brainwaves involved in any ailments being treated. The patient then plays a video game designed specifically for neurofeedback, using nothing more than their mind. Positive results in the game occur when brainwave frequencies reach a target range. It seems pretty simple on the surface.
Until recently, little credence was lent to this procedure by most experts in the realm of neuroscience and psychiatry. Studies extolling neurofeedback’s benefits are poorly designed and typically evaluate small numbers of patients. However, a team at the University of Montreal performed a trial of neurofeedback to look for a change. Over a span of 13 weeks, 15 patients underwent thrice-weekly neurofeedback sessions designed to enhance attention levels, while 15 others partook in sham sessions instead.
Patients who received genuine neurofeedback experienced improvements in their visual and auditory attention levels, and MRI scans revealed that the brains of those patients showed structural changes in regions linked to attention skills. After examining the results of this new study, at least some former doubters are taking note. “What this shows is that neurofeedback did, in fact, have an effect on the brain and enhances pathways where you’d want them enhanced. That’s a strong step and an encouraging finding,” said Andrew Leuchter, M.D., a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA.
Story and image via The Verge.