21 April 2010

Weird stuff you should know: Neurofeedback

I'd never heard of neurofeedback until a few weeks ago. Someone close in my life started talking about wanting to try neurofeedback (also called biofeedback). I was skepticalat first. If it's so good, why have I never heard of it? Why isn't it more widely used?

Let me back up. Neurofeedback is basically, as I understand it, learning to control one's own brainwaves. This can treat brain issues such as epilepsy or ADHD. But it's not a miracle cure. It takes many sessions being hooked up to a machine and learning to control the brainwaves. This can be through playing games at which you are "winning" when you're successfully producing the desired brainwaves. Apparently, positive results can be seen very quickly with this technique.

The interesting thing about this to people who could be treated is that they could potentially see very real results, and possibly end up having to take less medications after treatment. This is especially good for people who are taking a lot of medications that are interfering with their lives.

The interesting thing about this to me is that there are people out there who can control their brainwaves. What is this madness! Brain research has always seemed to me to be something that's widely considered a "soft" science — like it's less "real" than other sciences. When I did science fair projects in high school about the brain connection between taste and smell (it's through the hippocampus in the brain, if you're interested) I could hardly hold the judges' interest. Their eyes instantly glazed over as if to say Oh, "brain" crap. Just another student trying to get out of real work. When I did a really boring project on light refraction (which, by the way, there is hordes of information on and the project wasn't insanely original) my partner and I got Best in Fair. I am pretty sure that says something about how seriously people in general take work in brain science. And apparently most people in the field are just as skeptical, if not more so.

I was supposed to carry a book on ADD to a friend but misunderstood and took the book on neurofeedback: A Symphony in the Brain: The Evolution of the New Brain Wave Biofeedback.

Neurofeedback: This stuff gets freaky.
Since I had the book, I started reading it. And this stuff, it's crazy fascinating. The book talks quite a bit about the science behind neurofeedback, but also tells quite a few human-interest stories. The most interesting, that goes throughout the entire book, is about the family behind EEG Spectrum, a neurofeedback corporation. Susan and Siegfried Othmer's son Brian overcame serious neurological obstacles with neurofeedback.

The story of neurofeedback is fascinating. I sent the book back without reading it in the depth I would like. (I did take the wrong one, after all.) I usually speed-read books on the first reading, which means I get the gist but few details, but I can say: This is the kind of science writing I would like to do, this is the kind of information I'd like to see in more daily news, and this is the kind of writing I want to read. It's on my list.