Neurofeedback is a therapy that retrains the brain by (1) monitoring brain signals and (2) providing feedback with an audiovisual stimulus. Let’s break that down a bit.
Your brain, like your heart and your muscles, constantly produces electrical activity. The neurons in your brain communicate through action potentials, which produce (tiny) electric pulses. But all of these pulses add up to a periodic signal that you can measure by placing electrodes on the forehead and scalp. If you’ve ever seen an EKG recording, it’s basically the same idea; in that case, electrodes are placed on the chest to record the electrical activity of the heart.
Here’s the cool part: the signals coming from your brain differ depending on your mental state. If you’re just falling asleep, those brain signals are small and slow—we call those delta waves. If you’re awake and alert, your brain gives off faster, higher amplitude beta waves. And patients with brain-related disorders, such as ADHD or anxiety, have different EEG patterns. For example, children with ADHD show higher levels of theta waves (4-8 Hz) and lower levels of beta waves (13-30 Hz).
That’s where neurofeedback comes in. During a neurofeedback session, a child with ADHD will get hooked up to EEG electrodes and watch a video. Let’s say it’s a video of flowers blooming. If the child does a good job of focusing (more beta waves), the flowers will continue to bloom. If the child becomes distracted (more theta waves), the flowers in the video will start to wilt. This provides real-time visual feedback, which allows the child to learn how to focus. Unlike medications like Ritalin, neurofeedback actually retrains the patient’s brain and creates changes at the neuronal level.
It sounds like mad science, but it’s FDA-approved, and the results are impressive. The only problem with neurofeedback is the cost: the average cost of a course of sessions is around $3,000. Plus, you have to drive to the doctor’s office for each session. I thought, why not design a cheaper device that allows you to do it at home?
So I made one.