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A Better Brain: Neurofeedback in Your Living Room

A new application may help kids increase attention and reduce impulsivity by playing a special video game at home.

Most of us have heard of neurofeedback, a type of brain training that uses real-time displays of brain activity to help individuals observe and adjust their brain function. Neuro+, a game-based application for training attention skills with brain-computer interfaces, incorporates the same neurofeedback protocols used in clinical settings into a wireless EEG headset that works with a training game on a home computer or tablet.

Users wear the headset and are challenged to activate patterns of brain activity associated with focus in order to succeed in the game. In one activity, players are challenged to use their focus to race a dragon through a 3D fantasy world.

A recent study by Dr. Naomi Steiner at Tufts University found that neurofeedback reduces symptoms of inattention and impulsivity in ADHD students. Other studies suggest neurofeedback may be as effective as medications in reducing some symptoms of attention deficit. The American Academy of Pediatrics rated neurofeedback as a Level 1 “Best Support” Intervention for ADHD.

However, neurofeedback is only one part of what Neuro+ does. In a process called “motion-biofeedback,” the EEG headset monitor users’ movement while they are playing the game, ensuring that players maintain stillness and control of their bodies. If they can’t control themselves and move around too much, the dragon slows down and they lose points. “It’s not about stopping kids from fidgeting,” says Jake Stauch, founder and CEO or Neuro+ and Neurospire. “It’s about teaching self-control. The technology shows kids that they’re in charge of their bodies, and that they can do what they set their minds to.”

Neuro+ also uses go/no-go training, a cognitive exercise to help patients practice impulse control. A go/no-go task requires a child to decide rapidly whether to respond to a stimulus or to ignore it. For instance, a child may need to click a button to breathe fire when they see a red dragon, but ignore blue dragons. Stauch believes this is an essential component to the training regimen.

“There are many skills at work in a go/no-go,” says Stauch. The users are following instructions, controlling impulses, ignoring distractions, making rapid decisions, and challenging their working memory. These are essential life skills, and we’re getting kids to practice them through an activity they enjoy.”

Neuro + company is conducting clinical trials to investigate the efficacy of its intervention in children with ADHD. The trial is expected to wrap up in July, and the company will make the results publicly available shortly thereafter.