The human brain has the incredible ability to regenerate and reorganize itself in response to injury, normal development, and different sensory experiences. It’s been known for several decades that the plastic nature of the brain is responsible for both growth and synaptic pruning as we develop from our earliest years of life to adulthood; however, neuroplasticity in mature brains is a relatively newer area of exploration and understanding in science. Increasingly (and with great momentum), research is showing that our malleable brains adapt to support us through change, trauma and growth by rewiring neural pathways and making new connections.
The concept of neuroplasticity is the basis for the brain-based therapies of brain scanning or mapping and neurofeedback. In the last 50 years, over 1,000 studies have been published on the nature and efficacy of neurofeedback. Early research showed that brainwaves can be changed through operant conditioning, and that seizures can be reduced with EEG biofeedback training (another term for neurofeedback).
Neurofeedback utilizes operant conditioning and reward stimuli to elicit positive and lasting behavioural changes to specific brain functions. This is typically achieved with targeted visual and auditory stimuli that encourages activity through certain neural pathways while reducing activity in others. With regular neurofeedback sessions over time, the brain actually retrains itself to support the rewarded brain activity and reduce maladaptive psychological and behavioural patterns.
Neurofeedback is training in self-regulation, which is a necessary part of healthy brain function. This type of training allows the central nervous system to function more optimally and supports a more reliable connection through those pathways that relate to healthy and balanced cognitive function. Each individual undergoing neurofeedback training will receive a program uniquely customized to their particular needs and goals. This treatment plan can only be created once a comprehensive understanding is reached through the process of brain mapping.
Creating your own unique brain map
For every patient, we start by gathering information about the electrical activity of specific locations of your brain. This is done with a device that looks like a swim cap with a number of sensors, which is placed on the individual’s head to measure the brainwave activity of various frequency bands. During the initial brain map, we ask you to sit quietly with your eyes closed for approximately five minutes while your brain activity is recorded; we then repeat the same process, this time with your eyes open.
Our equipment analyzes the information that’s been collected and generates a series of images that identify which areas of the brain are overactive, as well as the areas that are underactive. You’ll also be sent a questionnaire to complete following your brain mapping session which will provide your doctor with more information about your feelings, choices, tendencies and perspectives; along with the information collected during your first session, these results provide us with a comprehensive picture of the behaviour of your brain.
The next step in this process is developing a customized neurofeedback training plan to address your specific needs. With your doctor’s guidance, you’ll have a personalized system designed to optimize your brain health and entrainment program.
Neurofeedback and neuroplasticity
We’ve already touched on the foundations of neurofeedback and its relationship to brain plasticity. Simply put, neuroplasticity is responsible for the changes in the brain that occur as a result of learning a new skill. It’s also the mechanism behind further developing or mastering a skill; as we practice different functions (or even entertain certain thoughts) these pathways in the brain become well travelled, making the processes involved in the associated activities or functions more natural and accessible to us. By training certain neural pathways while placing stop signs in front of others, we’re asking the brain to rewire and reorganize this intricate infrastructure of electrical current and chemical communication. (This process is known as “operant conditioning”.)
Brainwaves and frequency bands
An important area of understanding here is the behaviour of different brainwaves or frequency bands. There are four primary divisions of electrical impulses made by the brain: Delta, Theta, Alpha and Beta, which are known as “frequency bands”. These frequency bands tell us which parts of the brain are active, as well as the frequency bands that the brain should be using to complete a given task or activity.
Alpha brainwaves are responsible for relaxed, reflective states and occur when you’re awake but relaxed, and not processing much information. When you first get up in the morning and right before you fall asleep at night (as well as when you close your eyes to rest, or at the beginning of a meditation), you are generating Alpha brainwaves. They produce neural oscillations in the frequency range of 8 – 12 Hz.
Beta brainwaves are associated with alert and working mental states, which most people are in during the day and through most of their waking lives. When you are focused and concentrating, you’re producing Beta brainwaves. They produce neural oscillations in the frequency range of 14 H and greater.
Delta brainwaves are associated with sleepy and dreamy states, and are active in deep sleep and regeneration. Delta brainwaves occur when you are asleep, and are also responsible for healing the body. They produce neural oscillations in the lowest frequency range, at 0.1 – 3.5 Hz.
Theta brainwaves are associated with drowsy or meditative states, and are typically elicited in light sleep or very deep relaxation. When your subconscious takes over, you start producing Theta brainwaves. They produce neural oscillations in the frequency range of 4 – 8 Hz.
While each of these brainwaves is responsible for regulating different body functions, they all are equally important to your health and well-being. Researchers have known for decades about the correlation between irregular brainwaves and common neurological conditions. Neurofeedback is the first field to directly target these irregular brainwaves and restore them to normal ranges.
What to expect during a neurofeedback session
Sensors are placed on the head and ears to record your brainwave activity. Our advanced brain health equipment amplifies the electrical impulses and breaks them into the four key frequency bands. During the session, the neurofeedback clinician views the raw EEG signal, as well as the chosen frequency bands. Exercises can be done with eyes open or eyes closed. When your eyes are open, you’ll be watching a video or playing a game. The video fades in and out, depending on whether or not your brain is increasing the desired frequencies and decreasing others. When your eyes are closed, the software will translate your brainwaves into sound frequencies, which you’ll then listen to. You’ll be informed which sound means the brain is shifting patterns in the desired direction and is reinforced in this manner. At the conclusion of a 30-minute training period, the clinician will share and discuss the information collected on the training review screen.
Who can benefit from neurofeedback?
The goal of neurofeedback is to improve the brain’s ability to self-regulate, maintain flexibility, and smoothly shift between states of relaxation and arousal. Since the brain also controls attention regulation, emotional regulation and affect regulation, this ultimately allows the entire central nervous system to resume normal functioning. Brain mapping and neurofeedback are a non-invasive and highly effective therapeutic approach to improving your brain health and optimizing its function.
Any neurological condition that involves irregular brainwaves can be targeted and improved with neurofeedback. These conditions include attention-deficit disorder, addiction, anxiety, autism, brain injury, depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, migraines, obsessive compulsive disorder, stress, stroke and more. Get in touch today to schedule your brain mapping session or speak with a clinician about how you might benefit from this service.