Using Neurofeedback Therapy for ADHD

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When most people are asked about treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, they probably first think about medications such as Adderall and Ritalin. While prescription medication can be quite helpful, it is not the only beneficial intervention for individuals who have this disorder. For example, research has documented the effectiveness of neurofeedback therapy for ADHD. 

The Science of Neurofeedback Therapy

Neurofeedback is a specialized form of biofeedback that is focused on retraining the brain. It is a non-invasive, drug-free technique that has proved to be effective at helping people who have a variety of mental and behavioral health concerns, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Substance use disorders (addictions)

Neurofeedback therapy for ADHD uses data from electroencephalograms (EEGs) and cues from the professional who is providing the service to help them exert greater intentional control over their brain waves.  

Brain waves are differentiated by their frequency, which is measured in units called Hertz (Hz). The human brain is capable of producing the following five types of brain waves:

  • Delta (0.5-4 Hz): This type of brain wave is typically produced when a person is in the midst of a deep sleep.
  • Theta (4-8 Hz): Theta waves usually occur when a person is awake, but sleepy. Someone who has fallen into a light sleep may also produce theta waves.
  • Alpha: (8-12 Hz): When a person’s brain produces alpha waves, this indicates that the individual is in a relaxed, unfocused state of mind.
  • Beta (13-30 Hz): The production of beta waves is most common during periods of elevated alertness and focus, such as when a person is giving a presentation or having a conversation.
  • Gamma (30+ Hz): Gamma waves are associated with higher level cognitive functions, such as when a person is attempting to solve a problem or recall information that they had previously learned.

Brain waves occur automatically. However, as with respiration, it is possible for people to take control of this automatic process. 

As we will discuss in greater detail later in this post, the goal of neurofeedback for ADD/ADHD is to use positive and negative responses to help people learn how to consciously produce specific types of brain waves.

Understanding ADD/ADHD and the Brain

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has identified both structural and functional differences in the brains of people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, when compared to those who do not have this condition.

For example, the AACAP explained, research has found that one part of the brain – the frontal lobe – is often smaller in children who have ADD/ADHD. This area is associated with a variety of essential functions, including impulse control, attention, time perception, motivation, judgment, and social behavior.

The AACAP has also reported that certain neural networks, including those that are involved in planning, focus, and reward, seem to work differently in young people who have ADD/ADHD.

Turning our attention to the relationship between ADD/ADHD and brain waves, a November 2019 ADDitude Magazine article noted that the brains of people who have this disorder often produce “an abundance” of theta and delta waves. 

Since these types of waves are associated with sleep or sleepiness, this could contribute to the lack of focus that can be characteristic of ADD/ADHD.

How Does Neurofeedback Therapy Treat ADHD?

Preparation for a typical ADHD neurofeedback therapy session often looks like this:

  • The therapist and patient discuss the type of brain wave that will be targeted during the session.
  • The patient sits or reclines in a comfortable chair. 
  • The professional who is running the session places electrodes on the patient’s head, either directly or through a cap or another device that contains electrodes. 
  • These electrodes are solely for detecting and recording brain activity. They do not send any signals toward or into the patient’s brain.

Once the electrodes have been connected and the patient is comfortable, they may engage in a variety of activities, such as watching a film, playing a video game, or listening to music. 

  • While the patient is engaged in the activity, the therapist will monitor the EEG to view real-time updates on the types of brain waves the patient is producing.
  • When the EEG detects the targeted or desired brain waves, the patient will receive some form of positive feedback. This may include a brightening of the screen they are watching or a more pleasurable sound. 
  • When the EEG detects undesirable brain waves, the patient will receive negative feedback, which can include a dimming of the screen or a less pleasing sound.

Over time, exposure to this type of feedback can help people learn how to produce the desired type or types of brain waves. 

Multiple research efforts have concluded that neurofeedback for ADD/ADHD can be an effective type of treatment. For example:

  • According to a September 2013 study in the journal Biological Psychology, neurofeedback therapy for ADHD led to “significant reductions” in impairment as well as considerable improvements in academic performance among a group of young people.
  • A February 2017 study in the journal BioMed Research International found that young people with ADD/ADHD benefitted from treatment that focused on suppressing theta waves and enhancing both alpha and beta waves. 
  • In February 2021, the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment published a study that determined that standard neurofeedback protocols can lead to sustained positive outcomes, while personalized, multimodal neurofeedback can result in “superior treatment efficacy.”

Contact Us About Treating ADHD with Neurofeedback Therapy Today

If you believe that you or someone in your life can benefit from neurofeedback therapy for ADHD, Conscious Health may have the solutions you are seeking.

Our ADD/ADHD treatment center in Los Angeles, California, offers a dynamic array of innovative and effective outpatient services, including neurofeedback therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy, and vibroacoustic therapy. Our team will work closely with you to identify the full scope of your needs, then select the therapies and services that can help you achieve improved health and better overall quality of life.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.

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