New research has found that brain training based on the principle of ‘neurofeedback’ enables people with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) to improve their ability to concentrate.
Scientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), Switzerland, have explored a new technique called ‘neurofeedback’, which enables ADHD patients to train their attention.
The training has a positive effect on patients’ concentration abilities, and attention improvement was closely linked to an enhanced response from the P3 wave of brain activity which is known to reflect integration of information in the brain. Higher P3 amplitudes indicate greater attention towards detected targets.
The findings have been published in the journal Clinical Neurophysiology.
A non-pharmacological approach
ADHD involves difficulties with attention, concentration, and impulsiveness, and is characterised by a deficit in dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in executive functions.
Marie-Pierre Deiber, a researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and at the HUG Division of Psychiatric Specialties, said: “These disorders persist for the most part into 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 medications that increase the concentration of dopamine, are used for ADHD to improve a patient’s attention, which is often combined with psychotherapy as the disorder is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, or even bipolar disorders.
“However, pharmaceutical treatments can be accompanied by significant side effects, such as nervousness, sleep disturbance, but also an increased risk of developing other psychiatric disorders or cardiovascular diseases,” explains Roland Hasler, a researcher in the HUG Division of Psychiatric Specialties. “This is 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 “real-time” brain signals.
The team used an electroencephalogram (EEG) with 64 sensors to capture the electrical activity of cortical neurons and focus their analysis on the spontaneous Alpha rhythm (with frequency around 10 Hertz), coupling its amplitude fluctuation to a video game that the patients can control with the power of their attention.
“The aim of neurofeedback is to make the patients aware of the moments when they are no longer attentive. With practice, brain networks then “learn” to reduce attentional lapses through neuroplasticity,” said Tomas Ros, researcher in the Department of Basic Neurosciences at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and at the Centre for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM).
To measure the effects of neurofeedback training, the team administered an attention test to 25 adults with ADHD, and 22 neurotypical adults, which demonstrated that, at baseline, ADHD patients made more mistakes and had a more variable reaction time than the control participants, in line with a signature of impaired attention. After 30 minutes of neurofeedback training, the participants took the attention test again.
Deiber said: “The first finding was that stimulus detection and response variability were improved, indicating attentional enhancement. But what interested us most was the impact of the neurofeedback training on the P3 component, which has previously been shown to be reduced in ADHD, and directly linked to the neurocognitive processing of the stimulus.”
“The amplitude of the P3 increased significantly after neurofeedback training, and was directly associated with a reduction in the number of errors made by the patients,” added Ros.
This study demonstrated that a single 30-minute session of neurofeedback can induce short-term plasticity in the brain and encourages attentional improvements in ADHD patients.
It also supports the existence of an electro-physiological marker of attentional processing in ADHD.
Nader Perroud, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and at the HUG Division of Psychiatric Specialties, highlighted: “Thus, the P3 could be a cerebral signature that would allow us to better understand the neurocognitive mechanisms of ADHD.”
The scientists plan to carry out a neurofeedback treatment based on multiple training sessions, in order to observe whether the brain’s plasticity is strengthened over time.