Scientists discovered a technique called neurofeedback that allows ADHD patients to train their attention using instant feedback from their brain activity. Neuroscientists discovered that training had a positive impact on patients’ concentration abilities. They also found that attention improvements were closely linked to an increased response from the brain, the P3 wave. This is known to reflect brain integration.
About 7% suffer from Attention Deficit hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This disorder affects two out of three children and has a two-third chance to persist into adulthood. This neurodevelopmental disorder is characterized by hyperactivity, concentration problems, increased distractibility, impulsivity, and concentration difficulties. ADHD is currently treated with pharmaceutical drugs, which may have unwanted side effect. Researchers from the University of Geneva and the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) in Switzerland have developed a new technique called “neurofeedback” that allows ADHD patients to train their attention using instant feedback from their brain activity. The team of neuroscientists discovered not only that the training had a positive effect on patients’ concentration abilities but also that the attention improvement was closely tied to an enhanced brain response- the P3 waves. These waves are known to reflect brain information integration, with higher P3 ampltudes indicating greater attention towards identified targets. These findings are available online and published in the journal. Clinical Neurophysiology.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is a form of ADHD, develops in childhood. It causes impulsiveness, attention and concentration problems. It is a disorder that is genetically associated with environmental causes and is characterized by a deficiency in dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for executive functions. Marie-Pierre Deiber, a researcher at the Department of Psychiatry at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, and at the HUG Division of Psychiatric Specialties, says that these disorders can persist into adulthood. This makes it easier for people to turn to drugs or alcohol.
ADHD can now be treated with medications that increase dopamine concentrations, which improves attention. Psychotherapy is often combined with ADHD treatment because the disorder is often accompanied bipolar disorders such as depression, anxiety, and even bipolar disorder. Roland Hasler, a researcher in HUG Division of Psychiatric Specialties, explains that there are significant side effects to pharmaceutical treatments, including nervousness, sleep disturbance and increased risk of developing other psychiatric conditions or cardiovascular diseases. “This is the reason we wanted to study a completely non-pharmacological treatment that relies on ‘neurofeedback.
Sending the brain its signals
Neurofeedback is a neurocognitive intervention that focuses on training brain signals in real-time. Scientists use an electroencephalogram with 64 sensors to record the electrical activity of cortical neuron cells. They then focus their analysis and focus on the spontaneous Alpha rhythm (with frequency approximately 10 Hertz). The amplitude fluctuation is coupled to a videogame that patients can control with their attention. “Neurofeedback aims to make patients aware of times when they aren’t paying attention. Through practice, brain networks can “learn” how to reduce attentional lapses by neuroplasticity. Tomas Ros is a researcher at the Department of Basic Neurosciences of the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine (CIBM). To accomplish this, the patient’s EEG connects to a computer which displays an image of a spaceship. Space shuttles move forward when the patient is alert (low Alpha rhythm). Space-shuttle movement stops instantly when the patient loses attention or is distracted (high Alpha rhythm). When the space shuttle stops, the patient realizes he/she wasn’t paying attention and refocuses to start the shuttle again.
Focus training for the brain without medication?
The Geneva team administered an ADHD attention test to 25 adults and 22 adults who were neurotypical. This was done in order to determine the effects of neurofeedback training. The results showed that ADHD patients made more mistakes at baseline and had a slower reaction time than those who were not tested. This is consistent with impaired attention. Participants took the attention test again after 30 minutes of neurofeedback training.
Marie-Pierre Deiber says, “The first finding was that stimulus recognition and response variability were improved. This indicates attentional enhancement.” “But what was most interesting to us was the effect of neurofeedback training upon the P3 component. This has been previously shown to be decreased in ADHD and directly linked with the neurocognitive processing. The more efficient the processing is of the stimulus, the better the response to the attention task. Tomas Ros reports that the amplitude of P3 was significantly increased after neurofeedback training and was directly related to a decrease of errors made by patients.
This study first shows that a 30-minute session of neurofeedback can induce short-term plasticity in brains and promote attentional improvement in ADHD patients. Secondly, it supports the existence of an electro-physiological marker of attentional processing in ADHD. Nader Perroud is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry, UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, and the HUG Division of Psychiatric Specialties. He says that the P3 could be a cerebral sign that would help us better understand ADHD’s neurocognitive mechanisms. The scientists plan on implementing a neurofeedback therapy that involves multiple training sessions as soon as the effects become evident. This will allow them to monitor whether brain plasticity changes over time. Tomas Ros says, “The ultimate goal for patients is to learn how to concentrate without medication” and to be able train their brain in their own home.