Using neurofeedback to treat ADHD

Chances are, you know someone who suffers from ADHD, anxiety or depression.

Medication and talk therapy are two popular treatments for those disorders.

But some patients are opting for neurofeedback instead of or in addition to those treatments.

A local elementary school student and his parents let KHQA's Rajah Maples sit in on one of his sessions to show you what it is and how it works.

9-year-old Matthew suffers from ADHD or Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. He has trouble paying attention in school. So he recently started neurofeedback treatments to help regulate his brain.

Jerry Walker says, "It's a process of conditioning the brain to actually make it function more effectively."

Jerry Walker is a psychotherapist at Jerry Walker Therapy Services. He says the brain has four waves -- delta, theta, alpha and beta. When one or more of those waves are out of sync with where they're supposed to be, one can experience depressed mood, anxiety, or an inability to focus.

Walker says, "The thing that I like about it is, we do a quantitative EEG, sort of like a brain map at the beginning of the treatment...It's very specific. It says you're going to go to a very specific part of the brain, place an electrode and with that, you're going to alter the range.You have an electrode that gives the child or adult real-time information of what's happening in the brain."

Neurofeedback then uses a variety of computer programs, like this one, in which the brain waves control what happens. For example, Matthew might be asked to focus, concentrate or relax to help condition his brain.

Walker says, "The electrode basically gives the computer information on what's happening in the brain in real-time. Over time, what happens is the brain learns to condition off of that, and it basically starts to function more effectively."

Matthew didn't want to be interviewed on camera.

But he told KHQA off camera the neurofeedback has helped him focus better in the classroom.

Walker says some health insurance plans cover the cost and some don't.

That's why he says it's important to research your plan to find out if it covers neurofeedback and if so, how much.

What has research said about this in terms of its effectiveness?

Walker says, "The research varies. It depends on which periodical you're reading. About 60 percent of the population or better tend to notice some form of improvement. Overall, I've read things across the spectrum, medical journals and other types as well. It tends to show that it is effective."

Walker says he's seen especially good results with anxiety, which often times goes hand in hand with ADHD or Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

"The consistent information we get back from the kids is that they stat to be able to focus in the classroom better," he says. "They're able to sustain attention."

Walker says the needs of his clients vary. Some are trying to get off medication altogether or at least lower their dosage, while others receive neurofeedback in addition to medication and talk therapy.

Walker says, "The reality is having more than one mechanism working for you is a bonus.

The number of treatment sessions also varies. A successful treatment can last anywhere from 20 to 80 sessions, depending on the severity of the disorder and how your brain responds to the neurofeedback.

There's also a form of neurofeedback called "peak performance training."

Some professional athletes and company executives are turning to neurofeedback to increase their performance on the basketball court or in the workplace, respectively.

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