Neurofeedback can be effective in treating ADHD


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Q: We would like information on using neurofeedback for the treatment of ADHD. Our son is 10 years old and has struggled with ADHD for years. We have tried various medications and behavioral therapy. Does neurofeedback work?

A: A child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can make family life challenging for parents, but imagine what it like for the child. The complex disorder affects many aspects of the child’s life: focus, restless behavior, poor concentration and impulsivity. Some children cope with the disorder by applying simple behavior changes or environmental changes. Others require medication. Some may benefit from “biofeedback for the brain,” or neurofeedback.

Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, painless training program effective for many learning, behavioral and physiological problems. It can help children make their brains more active when they need to be — specifically in school.

With neurofeedback, results are seen over time. It has to be learned, similar to learning how to read, playing a sport or completing algebra. The practice portion (similar to homework) is the most important part, as this is how the child learns to regulate his or her brain. The natural function of the nervous system is to monitor and regulate activity. Neurofeedback helps the body to self-regulate the nervous system by understanding triggers, emotions and problems.

During a neurofeedback session, the clinician asks the child to focus on certain tasks. Sensors and monitors are attached to the body and show on a screen how the body is reacting. As the body reacts, the child is able to visually see their brain activity and monitor the patterns by focusing on the task. After the session, patients and therapists go over which methods help their brain the most. Then, when the child is no longer attached to the sensors, they use the same strategies to help focus and perform tasks more effectively. In some studies, children using neurofeedback improved their control and behavior.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a combination of medication and behavioral therapy to treat most children with ADHD. However, behavioral therapy for ADHD isn’t widely accepted as a stand-alone treatment. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that neurofeedback cannot be recommended as an alternative to medication in treating ADHD. Medication is still preferred by most doctors and health-care experts. As with most things, one size does not fit all and it is important to understand that each child is unique and ADHD affects everyone differently. Talk with your provider. Neurofeedback may have an important role in treating your child.

Hannah Nail Coble is the lead clinical social worker with Cone Health Behavioral Medicine. Send questions to Sherri McMillen at sherri.mcmillen@conehealth.com.

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