A new technique called “neurofeedback”Allows individuals with ADHD to train their attention, based on instant feedback from the level of their brain activity. The discovery is due to a team of neuroscientists fromUniversity of Geneva (UNIGE) and University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), Switzerland.
Their research revealed that not only that the training had a positive effect on patients’ ability to concentrate, but also that the improvement in attention was closely linked to a brain-enhanced response, the wave P3, which is known to reflect the integration of information into the brain, with higher P3 amplitudes indicating greater focus on detected targets.
The study was published in the scientific journal Clinical Neurophysiology.
Neurofeedback: this is how it works
The attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) develops in childhood and leads to numerous difficulties with attention, concentration and impulsivity. It has genetics associated with environmental causes and is characterized by a dopamine deficiency, a neurotransmitter involved in executive functions.
Marie-Pierre Deiber, researcher of Department of Psychiatry at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and at the Division of Psychiatric Specialties HUG said: “These disorders persist for the most part in adulthood and lead to problems in relational and socio-professional functioning, making it easier for people with this disorder to turn to alcohol or drugs ”.
Today, ADHD is treated with drugs that increase dopamine concentration, improving patient attention. Since the disorder is often accompanied by depression, anxiety or even bipolar disorder, treatment is generally combined with psychotherapy.
Roland Hasler, researcher of the HUG Division of Psychiatric Specialties, however, explains that: “However, i pharmaceutical treatments can be accompanied by significant side effectsi, such as nervousness, sleep disturbances, but also an increased risk of developing other psychiatric disorders or cardiovascular diseases. This is the reason why we wanted to investigate a completely non-pharmacological and non-invasive treatment based on the principle of neurofeedback ”.
Neurofeedback is a type of neurocognitive intervention based on the training of brain signals “in real time”. Using a electroencephalogram (EEG) with 64 sensors, scientists capture the electrical activity of cortical neurons and focus their analysis on the spontaneous alpha rhythm (frequency around 10 Hertz), coupling its fluctuation in amplitude to a video game that patients can control with the power of their attention.
“The purpose of neurofeedback is to make patients aware of when they are no longer attentive. With practice, brain networks then “learn” to reduce attention gaps through neuroplasticity “he explains Tomas Ros, researcher of Department of Neuroscience based at the Faculty of Medicine UNIGE and at the Biomedical Imaging Center (CIBM).
In order to carry out this therapy, the interested party is connected to a computer displaying an image of a space shuttle. When the patient is in an alert brain state (low alpha rhythm), this propels the space shuttle forward. But as soon as the patient gets distracted or loses attention (high alpha rhythm), this instantly stops the movement of the space shuttle. Faced with the stopping of the space shuttle, the patient realizes that he is no longer attentive and concentrates to get the shuttle to restart.
Neurofeedback: is it possible to train the brain without the administration of drugs?
To measure the effects of neurofeedback training, the Geneva team practiced a attention test on 25 adults with ADHD and 22 neurotypical adults. The results showed that, at baseline, ADHD patients made more mistakes and had a more variable reaction time than control participants, consistent with a reduced attention characteristic. After 30 minutes of neurofeedback training, the participants repeated the attention test.
“The first discovery was that stimulus detection and response variability were improved, indicating an improvement in attention “, he claims Marie-Pierre Deiber. “But what interested us most was the impact of neurofeedback training on the P3 component, which has previously been shown to be reduced in ADHD and directly linked to neurocognitive processing of the stimulus. ”
The greater the amplitude of the P3, the more efficient the stimulus processing and the more accurate the response to the attention task. “P3 amplitude increased significantly after neurofeedback training and was directly associated with a reduction in the number of patient errors“, He specified Tomas Ros.
This study first shows that a single 30-minute neurofeedback session can induce short-term plasticity in the brain and encourage improvements in attention in ADHD patients. Second, it supports the existence of an electrophysiological marker of attention processing in ADHD.
“So, P3 could be a brain signature that would allow us to better understand the neurocognitive mechanisms of ADHD.“, he claims Nader Perroud, Professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and at the Division of Psychiatric Specialties HUG. Finally, since the effects are evident in the short term, the scientists plan to carry out a neurofeedback treatment based on multiple training sessions, to see if the brain’s plasticity strengthens over time. “brain in the comfort of your own home“, Concludes Tomas Ros.