Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Reversing cognitive decline

I had about 60 attendees at my lecture and many asked questions about how they can get their fading memory back.  I offered several solutions that include: exercise 20 minutes daily, reduce calories by 30%, fast one day each week, get 7-8 hours of solid sleep, lower your stress levels, maintain a good social support network, keep learning, and get some neurofeedback.  A recent study showed how as little as 10 sessions of SMR (12-15 Hz) training significantly improved memory, attention, and cognitive processing.  I am offering a copy of my powerpoint slide presentation to anyone who would like to see it.  It covers the above topics in greater detail. 

Public Lecture

I will be giving a public lecture on "Preventing and Reversing Age Related Cognitive Decline" at Cottage Hospital Ground Rounds, June 11, 2014 from 12:00-1:30.

Friday, April 11, 2014

NeurOptimal Study Shows Improvements in Several Key Emotional Areas

Last month I gave a presentation at the Zengar Conference in Palm Springs.  I had conducted a study of 31 of my clients who had 12 or more NeurOptimal sessions.  They were interviewed after each session and at the end of their course of treatment, I asked them to complete a questionnaire to assess changes in six emotional areas. These areas, drawn from Richard Davidson’s book, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them”, are defined as follows:
Outlook is how long you're able to sustain positive emotions.
Resilience is how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity.
Social Intuition is how adept you are picking up social signals from others around you.
Self-Awareness is how well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions.
Sensitivity to Context is how good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in.
Attention is how sharp and clear your focus is.

A NeurOptimal training session lasts 33 minutes and is divided into four segments of different lengths. It starts with increasing SMR (12-15Hz) which is designed to improve sleep, and that is followed by Beta (15-19Hz) which is designed to increase mental clarity and focus.  The third segment is Alpha (8-12Hz), which produces a deep calmness. The final part is Gamma (38-42Hz), which integrates all four lobes of the brain and is designed to increase spiritual awareness. 

The study results showed that 74% (23 of 31) had a positive response to NeurOptimal. The 23 clients who reported progress rated their improvement at 75% or greater in the areas of outlook, resilience, self-awareness, and social intuition. They also reported 50% improvement in attention and social context.  As part of the study I included three additional questions dealing with anxiety, assertiveness and people-pleasing. The same 23 clients reported a 75% reduction in their anxiety, a 50% increase in their assertiveness, and a 50% reduction in their people-pleasing thoughts and behaviors.  

The benefits of this training seem very similar to the outcomes of long-term mediation, with the major advantage of NeurOptimal training over meditation being its relative speed. Rather than taking countless hours over many years to achieve these benefits (as is commonly required with meditation), NeurOptimal has the potential to get people to a calmer and clearer mental state with 10-15 hours of training.

The statements below were excerpted from the client questionnaires where they were asked to provide comments on their improvements in each emotional area.


·        I have a greater sense of peace and well-being.
·        I'm in a much better mood.
·        My negative thoughts seem less powerful and further away.
·        I’m more positive about the future.  
·        I don’t have that constant mild depression anymore. 


·        When I'm in stressful moments, I can bounce back much faster.
·        I can be in a stressful situation and I'm able to tolerate the anxiety.
·        When conflict comes up I can stay centered and calm. 
·        I can go with the flow much easier. 
·        Before, would let little things bother me a lot. Now, I just find a solution to them and not worry about it. 

Social Intuition

·        I am no longer dazed and dissociated in social interactions. 


·        I feel I’m developing another level of consciousness, one that watches my emotions without becoming embroiled in them.
·        Before I was always under stress and didn't recognize it – and now I do.   
·        Something got released that allowed me to see the world around me more clearly and be aware of what's going on.
·        It’s easier to think clearly and to question my negative thoughts and assumptions. 
·        There seems to be more space in between me and my thoughts.

Sensitivity to Context

·        I'm much more social and more relaxed around people.
·        I'm getting rave reviews from my boss. 


·        I can be highly focused when I need to be.
·        At work, I’m able to remember things easily and multi-task better. 
·        I can read a book for the first time because I can focus. 
·        I can follow through and complete projects now.


·        I have much less fear in general. 
·        I stopped living in fight-or-flight all the time. 
·        I’ve always been a shy person and that began to change. 
·        All my life, I’ve had a monkey mind that made me worry about everything, but now I feel confident that I can handle everything and things can be processed.


·        I’m speaking up more. 
·        I am more able to say what I think instead of shoving my feelings down. 
·        I can talk to my mother now without getting irritated at her.
·        If I do get mad about something, it boils up to my consciousness much faster and I spontaneously express the anger and am done with it.


·        I'm worrying less about what people think about me.
·        I take things less personally now.
      I have stopped worrying if people are judging me or don’t like me. 

Friday, March 07, 2014

Public Lecture

“Preventing and Reversing Age Related Cognitive Decline” is the topic of a lecture and demonstration that I’ll be giving at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club on Thursday March 13 from 6-7.  You will learn effective strategies to improve you brain. The address is 2375 Foothill Road, Santa Barbara 805-682-4722.

Monday, April 29, 2013

NeurOptimal neurofeedback helps relieve chemo brain symptoms

Chemotherapy can save a cancer patient's life. But those who have struggled with ‘chemo brain’ can testify to the frustration of not being able to complete the simplest tasks.  Social psychologist Jean Alvarez, a breast cancer survivor, struggled with the condition for years. In 2007, she turned to neurofeedback when nothing else seemed to help her get rid of the two symptoms she said were "left over" from chemotherapy treatment that ended years earlier.

Alvarez wanted to regain her ability to multitask cognitively, instead of being able to focus only on one thing at a time. She also wanted to stop getting stuck trying to find words midsentence. The ability to have a fluid conversation had escaped her.  Electroencephalogram, or EEG, biofeedback, otherwise known as neurofeedback, is a noninvasive treatment that provides information on and measures changes in a person's brain-wave activity. The brain "self-corrects" by using the feedback to reorganize.

Traditional neurofeedback pinpoints a specific area of the brain in need of correction. But no one knows what the electrical "signature" of chemo brain is, so Alvarez used another type of neurofeedback equipment, NeurOptimal, that addresses the brain as an integrated system, making the specific location of the problem less important.

Resistant to the suggestion of her physician at the time to undergo neuropsychological testing, Alvarez instead decided to pursue neurofeedback after revisiting something she had previously read about the technique.  Not only did Alvarez find relief, but after 10 treatments, she felt as good as she had before she began chemotherapy. That led her to design a research study to see if her success could be replicated. She hoped to provide relief to others more quickly than if they waited for symptoms to dissipate on their own, months or years later.

The small study looked at the impact of neurofeedback on lessening post-cancer cognitive impairment, or PCCI.  Her study was published online April 12 in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies.  The type of neurofeedback employed in the study was a brief interruption in music that the study subject was listening to.  This newer approach to neurofeedback, Alvarez wrote, trains the whole brain by having participants "let go" instead of engaging actively or consciously with the instrument providing that feedback.

Alvarez, director of research at the newly incorporated Cleveland-based Applied Brain Research Foundation of Ohio, began enrolling breast cancer patients for the study in early 2010.  Twenty-three women, who ranged in age from 43 to 70 and who had completed treatment for breast cancer received NeurOptimal neurofeedback twice a week for 10 weeks for 33 minutes a session. What Alvarez found was that the treatment did help relieve symptoms of PCCI, or chemo brain, and it did help other patients return to the level of function they had prior to starting chemotherapy.

Chemo brain symptoms were reversed in 21 of the 23 women.  "I was hoping to see all of those good results, but I'm not sure I was expecting to see them," Alvarez said.  "Almost everyone improved and returned to normal levels. That was surprising and gratifying."  Not all of the study participants showed benefits right away, or at the same rate, she said. Some started noticing a change after a half-dozen sessions, while a few didn't begin seeing improvement until toward the end of their participation, Alvarez said.  For some women, sleep quality improved first; in others, symptoms of depression lessened, she said, adding, "It's a pretty individual process."

"Chemo brain is real," said Dr. Fremonta Meyer, a psychiatrist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and co-author of Alvarez's study who helped interpret the data. Among the patients she sees are those with post-cancer cognitive problems that may sound like the effects of normal aging or menopause. But difficulty finding words, short-term memory loss, problems sleeping and the inability to multitask effectively are all things that can be the result of chemo brain, she said.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NeurOptimal neurofeedback improves sleep

Insomnia is widespread within the general population. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, more than 35% of people are struggling with some kind of sleep disorder. 

Earlier this year, Ed O’Malley, PhD, presented findings from a research study that incorporated NeurOptimal neurofeedback with behavioral therapy for insomnia.  The study was conducted at the Sleep Disorders Lab at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut, the teaching hospital for Yale University.  He found that on average it took only 15-16 NeurOptimal sessions to resolve patients’ sleep issues. He also found that the neurofeedback training helped subjects tolerate the standard cognitive behavioral therapy much better.

On average the patients were getting only about 30% of the optimal amount of sleep per night and they typically took up to an hour or more to fall asleep.  Many were taking sleep medications.  By the end of the study, 90% of them went off their meds completely. They were all falling asleep within 15 minutes and obtaining 85-100% of their optimal amount of sleep.  Lead researcher, Ed O’Malley holds a Ph.D. in neurobiology and is one of the nation’s leading experts in sleep medicine.

NeurOptimal now available at my office

I recently purchased a NeurOptimal neurofeedback system for the purpose of helping my clients sleep and to reduce their overall internal fear that creates anxiety of all types.  Most people do not know that there are 10 different methods of conducting neurofeedback.  NeurOptimal is the only one that is designed to work with the brain as a non-linear dynamical system. It does not “push” the brain in any way.   NeurOptimal does not diagnose or treat any disorder; rather, it works by training the brain as a whole. When a client's brain optimizes itself, they are generally less symptomatic and will be able to function better within their diagnosis.  Often, but not always, a client is better able to utilize their medication and thus a reduction in dosage may become necessary.  I always consult with the physician on these matters.   

A 2010 doctoral dissertation on NeurOptimal found that within the first six sessions, most clients notice improved qualities of sleep, reduced anxiety, improvement in mood, increased self-awareness, improved coping, and a generalized sense of feeling better overall.  Changes were described as occurring easily and naturally, as from within. Clients also reported the diminishment of individuals’ particular issues. Most clients experience changes that surprised them, were unexpected, or were beyond their presenting issues.

Clients typically find NeurOptimal neurofeedback system effective in resolving issues in five general categories: 1) help with specific cognitive, emotional, or physical challenges (ADHD, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, etc.), 2) slowing the effects of brain aging, 3) achieving an artistic or athletic performance edge, 4), enhancing academic performance, 5) wellness and personal growth.

NeurOptimal is essentially a brain workout. It trains your brain to be more flexible and resilient. A brain that is more flexible adapts and responds quicker and more appropriately to changes in the environment.  A brain that has more resilience is able to “bounce back” from a negative event.  Those with more flexible and resilient brains report feeling happier and more peaceful.  In general, it’s recommended to have 20-30 sessions to achieve optimal benefit, however, many will notice feeling much better in fewer than 10 neurofeedback training sessions.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Clients who want to get off medications

One of the many reasons people seek neurofeedback is the hope of getting off their psychotropic medications.   They want to stop taking antidepressants, stimulants, and/or tranquilizers either because it isn’t working that well for them or they are concerned about the side effects.  There are websites that cover these topics and I invite all my current and prospective clients to read them who are interested.   Mad in America hosts several bloggers who offer excellent information on psychiatric medications.
Harvard physician, Joseph Glenmullen, MD, wrote The Antidepressant Solution.  More than twenty million Americans, including over one million teens and children, take one of today's popular antidepressants, such as Paxil, Zoloft, or Effexor.  With the FDA's warning that antidepressants may cause agitation, anxiety, hostility, and even violent or suicidal tendencies, these medications are at the forefront of national legal news.  It is the first book to call attention to the drugs' catch-22: Although many people are ready to go off these drugs, they continue to take them because either the patient or the doctor mistakes antidepressant withdrawal for depressive relapse. The Antidepressant Solution offers an easy, step-by-step guide for patients and their doctors.

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Lecture on January 15

I will be giving a public presentation titled, "ADHD and the Healing Power of Neurofeedback" at the Faulkner Gallery on Sunday, January 15, 2012 from 3:30 to 5:00pm. The room is located in the downtown Santa Barbara Public Library at the corner of Anapamu and Anacapa St. No reservations are needed. Just show up for an entertaining and informative 90 minutes. I will be offering a discount for those who attend and sign up for one of my programs.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Gut Problems Linked to Brain Disorders

New research now shows that gut health affects your mood and behavior. Improving the balance between bacteria in the gut can improve how your feel and how you act. Nourishing your gut flora is extremely important because in a very real sense you have two brains, one inside your skull and one in your gut, and each needs its own vital nourishment.

A study published in 2010 in the Archives of General Psychiatry found evidence that psychiatric problems can and are often caused by lack of natural microorganisms in soil, food, and the gut. Rates of depression in younger people have steadily grown to outnumber rates of depression in the older populations, and one reason for this could be the lack of exposure to bacteria, both outside and inside your body. Quite simply, modern society may have gotten too sanitized and pasteurized for our own good.

Fermented foods have been traditional staples in most cultures, but modern food manufacturing, with its focus on killing all bacteria in the name of food safety, has eliminated most of these foods. You can still find traditionally fermented foods like natto or kefir, but they're not the dietary staples they once used to be, and many people don't like them when trying them out for the first time in adulthood.

Your body contains about 100 trillion bacteria. That is more than 10 times the number of cells you have in your entire body. Ideally, the ratio between the bacteria in your gut is 85 percent "good" and 15 percent "bad."

In addition to the psychological implications, a healthy ratio of good to bad gut bacteria is essential for: protection against over-growth of other microorganisms that could cause disease; digestion of food and absorption of nutrients; digesting and absorbing certain carbohydrates; producing vitamins; and, absorbing minerals and eliminating toxins. Also, an estimated 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut.

Your gut bacteria do not live in a bubble; rather, they are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you eat a lot of processed foods, for instance, your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast. Your gut bacteria are also very sensitive to: antibiotics, chlorinated water, antibacterial soap, agricultural chemicals, and pollution. Because virtually all of us are exposed to these, it's generally a good idea to "reseed" the good bacteria in your gut by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement or, better yet, eating fermented foods.

Fermented foods are still the best route to optimal digestive health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions. Healthy choices include sauerkraut, lassi, kefir, tempeh, and kimchi and natto.

If you regularly eat fermented foods such as these that, again, have not been pasteurized (pasteurization kills the naturally occurring probiotics), your healthy gut bacteria will thrive.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Processed Food Linked to Depression

The British Journal of Psychiatry recently published an article showing that a diet heavy in processed and fatty foods increases the risk of depression. Researchers also found that a diet including plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit and fish could help prevent the onset of depression.They compared participants -- all civil servants -- who ate a diet largely based on "whole" foods with a second group who mainly ate fried food, processed meat, high-fat dairy products and sweetened desserts.Taking into account other indicators of a healthy lifestyle such as not smoking and taking physical exercise, those who ate the whole foods had a 26 percent lower risk of depression than those who ate mainly processed foods. People with a diet heavy in processed food had a 58 percent higher risk of depression.The high level of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables could have a protective effect, as previous studies have shown higher antioxidant levels to be associated with a lower risk of depression. Eating lots of fish may protect against depression because it contains high levels of the sort of polyunsaturated fatty acids which stimulate brain activity. They said it was possible that a "whole food" diet protects against depression because of the combined effect of consuming nutrients from lots of different types of food, rather than the effect of one single nutrient. All the more reason to gradually modify your diet to reduce fast foods, all packaged foods, high fat foods, and sugar.

Neurofeedback proves effective in treating numerous disorders

I recently discovered an article published a few years ago in the San Antonio Business Journal.  The State of Texas passed a law that mandates insurance companies cover neurofeedback for the treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI).  The article goes on to say, “Research shows that neurofeedback, a computer-based, brain-training technique, helps the body and the brain improve the way they function. Results have included success in regulating hard-to-treat disorders such as migraines, sleep disorders, panic attacks and attention deficit disorder (ADD) and improving performance in athletes, musicians and test-takers.

Through neurofeedback, therapists monitor which brain waves are most active and which are least active. Then, through a series of sessions, they equalize those waves into a healthy pattern, allowing for the regulation of symptoms or the clearing of the mind for peak performance.

While it is possible to observe the same phenomenon through medication, the learning curve is much more obvious in neurofeedback. In neurofeedback nothing happens unless the brain chooses to do so. The therapist only provides the information. The brain must take the initiative to do something. Thus, neurofeedback may become a more permanent, drug-free solution.

The benefits of neurofeedback research are overwhelming. Follow up studies on children with ADD who received neurofeedback training showed significant increases in academic and behavior scores. Some children even jumped as much as two years in grade level achievement and boosted their IQ by about 15 points. Studies are also being done on neurofeedback and addiction. After a month-long neurofeedback treatment, alcohol addicted patients achieved an 80 percent abstinence rate. A follow-up review showed that 70 percent remained abstinent.

It makes sense that a better-functioning brain can improve so many aspects of a person's life. In fact, many patients see a change in multiple symptoms over time as neurofeedback beings to train the brain to regulate itself better. Nonverbal autistic children begin to speak and teenagers with ADD begin to find focus and school success. As more research is conducted and positive results documented, neurofeedback will only grow in acceptance and use, helping thousands with its unique way of encouraging the brain to function in a more stable and holistic way.”

You can read the full article at:

Neurofeedback: An ADHD Treatment That Retrains the Brain?

This is a summary of Megan Johnson’s report found in the December 2009 edition of US News & World Report. Neurofeedback, also called EEG biofeedback, has been under investigation as a treatment for epilepsy and ADHD since the 1970s. Studies suggest that in ADHD, the brain generates insufficient beta waves, which are associated with focus and attention, and an overabundance of lower-frequency theta waves, produced during periods of daydreaming or drowsiness. Praising and rewarding a child when he steps up production of beta waves by concentrating on the game or movie should therefore teach him how to focus at will in other settings, such as doing homework assignments or cleaning his room. And at least for some children, that seems to have happened. The article goes on to report how one child after 60 neurofeedback sessions had his reading scores jump up from second- to fifth-grade level, and his IQ scores jump from low average to high average. He later graduated from college. While neurofeedback works in theory and has had anecdotal successes, it was largely dismissed by ADHD experts until recently. Newer research has begun to build a promising foundation. A German study published earlier this year, which found that neurofeedback improved attention and reduced impulsivity and hyperactivity, was fairly large (94 children ages 8 to 12) and included a control group. Fifty-nine of the children received 36 sessions of neurofeedback over three to four weeks, while the other 35 children were trained in a different technique designed to improve attention. Observations by the children's parents and teachers indicated that most kinds of ADHD-related behavior improved much more in the neurofeedback group than in the control group. The study and 14 others were analyzed in the July issue of the Official Journal of the EEG and Clinical Neuroscience Society. Ten of the studies, involving a total of nearly 500 children, used a control group. "The clinical effects of neurofeedback in the treatment of ADHD can be regarded as clinically meaningful," the authors concluded. Still, as evidence of benefit accumulates, increasing numbers of parents will ask themselves whether neurofeedback may be worth trying. The question is whether the expense is justifiable. Forty to 60 sessions, typically costing $100-130 per session, are generally recommended; most health insurance plans consider neurofeedback an alternative treatment and will not cover the expense. Drug treatment can be more expensive over the long run—about $180 a month for some stimulants—but generic medications can cost as little as $10 a month. Kids might go five to eight years on medication before reaching the amount spent on neurofeedback. And if the family has health insurance, most plans cover much of the cost of drugs. While many practitioners envision neurofeedback as a drug-free solution, others see it as a complement to drug therapy. Neurofeedback alone does not produce the immediate and dramatic results of medication. The catch with drugs is that many children stop taking them. In one large study, more than 60 percent of the children on stimulants discontinued them within eight years. Parental concern may be a factor—side effects are not uncommon, and lately some of the drugs have been linked to stunted growth. That's why Kim Sanders of Aubrey, Texas, decided to try neurofeedback a few years ago with Macy, now 15, and Trent, 14. The stimulants they were taking for their attention disorders, says Sanders, inhibited their growth. She has seen a "night and day" difference in Trent's behavior and a "remarkable" improvement in Macy's performance in school. They no longer take medicine. To read the full article, go to

Amino Acid May Help Reduce Cocaine Cravings

In addition to my program for cocaine addiction using neurofeedback, I am now recommending that clients who are addicted take 1000mg of the supplement N-acetylcysteine (NAC) three times daily. A recent study reported in Science Daily found that NAC restored normal functioning to the brain circuits in rats that had been previously addicted to cocaine. Repeated exposure to psychoactive drugs such as cocaine causes an imbalance in the brain circuits regulating reward and cognitive control. NAC reverses the changes in the brain's circuitry associated with cocaine addiction. This reversal appears to lessen the cravings associated with cocaine, thus providing protection against relapse. Clearly, this will help the brain stabilize and make the work with neurofeedback even more effective. The findings on NAC were presented at Neuroscience 2009, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health. I recommend using Douglas Labs brand for its pharmaceutical grade NAC.

Scientists find clue to anxiety drug addiction

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the US. According to the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), just over 18 percent, or about 40 million American adults aged 18 and older, have an anxiety disorder. The most common medical treatment for this disorder is a class of prescription anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, Xanax and Valium. Many people become addicted to these drugs, but researchers did not understand why until very recently. In the February 2010 edition of the Nature journal, researchers from Switzerland and the United States reported how anti-anxiety drugs use the same "reward pathways" in the brain as heroin and cannabis. Dopamine is the “feel good” neurotransmitter and benzodiazepine drugs increase its activation. Another recent study in Denmark found that people with higher levels of dopamine in the brain tend to be more prone to addictive behavior, which may explain why some people fall into addiction more easily than others, whether the substance of choice is a prescription drug or an illicit drug. If you are a person born with high density of dopamine receptors, you may find it much easier to get addicted to anti-anxiety drugs, pain pills, alcohol, or marijuana. Physicians are advised to prescribe benzodiazepines for short-term use only. When people take them on regular basis for a long term, they are prone to develop chronic cognitive impairment. Because addiction to benzodiazepines is common, stopping them abruptly can result in a withdrawal syndrome similar to what is seen with alcohol withdrawal, including sweating, agitation, confusion, hallucinations and even seizures. My office offers an alternative to addictive anti-anxiety prescription medications. I combine several approaches, including teaching effective stress management tools, neurofeedback, the Alpha-Stim SCS, and nutraceuticals.

Brain rewires itself every day

In August 2009. ScienceDaily reported on a discovery that the brain rewires itself following an experience. Researchers, Henry Markram and Jean-Vincent Le Bé, at the Brain Science Institute in France showed that this process of changing, strengthening and pruning brain circuits takes place on a scale of just hours, suggesting that the brain is evolving considerably even during the course of a single day. "The circuitry of the brain is like a social network where neurons are like people, directly linked to only a few other people," explains Markram. "This finding indicates that the brain is constantly switching alliances and linking with new circles of "friends" to better process information." This finding fits perfectly into the model of neurofeedback. Brain training of this sort creates new connections and strengthens existing ones. There is a new adaptive rewiring that takes place, and the brain becomes more stable and more functional. With the Othmer Interhemispheric Low Frequency Training, I am now often seeing positive changes within one session. Symptoms such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, insomnia, headache, and autism all noticeably improve. With repeated trainings, the improvement become permanent. The brain truly is neuroplastic and readily makes changes when presented with the right challenges.

Brief Diversions Vastly Improve Focus

A new study in the 2011 journal Cognition overturns a decades-old theory about the nature of attention and demonstrates that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one's ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods. The brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant over time. For example, most people are not aware of the sensation of clothing touching their skin. The body becomes "habituated" to the feeling and the stimulus no longer registers in any meaningful way in the brain. University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras and postdoctoral fellow Atsunori Ariga tested participants' ability to focus on a repetitive computerized task for about an hour under various conditions. Simply having subjects take two brief breaks from their main task allowed them to stay focused during the entire experiment. Those who did not take a break had declining performance over time. Those who took even two brief breaks saw no drop in their performance over time. "Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness," Lleras said. Prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance "We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused," he said. "From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!" My comment is that your brain functions best at work and school when you take periodic brief breaks. I call these microbreaks and suggest you perform an open focus exercise where you concentrate on everything at the same time but not single anything out. Its taking in all sensory information simultaneously without separating any of it. Its opening up your awareness to all inputs at the same time. This places the brain in an alpha state, recharges, refreshing, and making it ready to return to narrow focus again after a few moments.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Neurofeedback Gains Popularity and Lab Attention

The New York Times ran a feature story about neurofeedback in its October 4, 2010 edition. It reported that there are an estimated 7,500 mental health professionals in the US now offering neurofeedback as part of their services and that more than 100,000 Americans have tried it over the past decade.

John Kounios, a professor of psychology at Drexel University, published a small study in 2007 suggesting that the treatment speeded cognitive processing in elderly people. “There’s no question that neurofeedback works, that people can change brain activity,” he said. “The big questions we still haven’t answered are precisely how it works and how it can be harnessed to treat disorders.”

Neurofeedback was developed in the 1960s and ’70s, with American researchers leading the way. In 1968, M. Barry Sterman, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, reported that the training helped cats resist epileptic seizures. Dr. Sterman and others later claimed to have achieved similar benefits with humans.

The findings prompted a boomlet of interest in which clinicians of varying degrees of respectability jumped into the field, making many unsupported claims about seeming miracle cures and tainting the treatment’s reputation among academic experts. Meanwhile, researchers in Germany and the Netherlands continued to explore neurofeedback’s potential benefits.

A major attraction of the technique is the hope that it can help patients avoid drugs, which often have side effects. Instead, patients practice routines that seem more like exercising a muscle. Brain cells communicate with one another, in part, through a constant storm of electrical impulses. Their patterns show up on an electroencephalogram, or EEG, as brain waves with different frequencies.

Neurofeedback practitioners say people have problems when their brain wave frequencies aren’t suited for the task at hand, or when parts of the brain aren’t communicating adequately with other parts. These issues, they say, can be represented on a “brain map,” the initial EEG readings that serve as a guide for treatment. Subsequently, a clinician will help a patient learn to slow down or speed up those brain waves, through a process known as operant conditioning. The brain begins by generating fairly random patterns, while the computer software responds with encouragement whenever the activity meets the target.

Dr. Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research at Columbia and the author of “The Brain That Changes Itself” (Viking, 2007), said he considered neurofeedback “a powerful stabilizer of the brain.”

Practitioners make even more enthusiastic claims. Robert Coben, a neuropsychologist in Massapequa Park, N.Y., said he had treated more than 1,000 autistic children over the past seven years and had conducted a clinical study, finding striking reductions in symptoms, as reported by parents.

To read the full article, go to