15 October 2014

The BFE Goes to the Circus

BFE Italia's Davide Pierini assisting in Dr. Edson Filho's study.

by Jon Bale, BFE Research Manager

This was definitely a change of pace from my normal schedule: standing in a multi-storey training room, with aerial trapeze artists dangling from long fabric strips in one corner, a team of acrobats doing handstands one on-top of another on the far side of the room, and myself among the jugglers. No, I'm not a juggler; I was there to run a psychophysiological assessment on them. 

Off to the Circus We Went!
My situation came to be when I was approached by Davide Pierini, the head of BFE Italia, who received a request for assistance on running a study by Edson Filho, Ph.D., from the Behavioral Imaging and Neural Dynamics (BIND) Center at the University of Chieti-Pescara (Università degli Studi G. d'Annunzio Chieti e Pescara), Italy. Through a competitive selection process, Dr. Filho was granted access to the students of the National Circus School (École Nationale de Cirque) in Montreal, Canada. As one of the top competitive circus schools in the world, with only a small skip away from the headquarters of prominent circus companies such as Cirque de Soleil, Tohu, Seven Fingers circus, and Cirque Eloize, no sport scientist would pass over such an opportunity of access, and the BFE was just as excited to help with the project. Off to the circus we went!

The goal of the study was to examine the psychophysiological readings of jugglers at different performance levels, and to compare when the juggler is performing on their own and when teamed up with a partner. The hypothesis was that we would find increased coherence between the individuals of each juggler team.

Measuring performance level of jugglers on their own or with a partner.

Meeting Unique Challenges
There were inherent difficulties to deal with in the data acquisition process of the assessment. Juggling requires movement so electrodes and equipment needed to be well secured to the subjects. Artifacts needed to be minimized to the best of the jugglers' abilities, but within the confines of their performance. To address these issues, we fashioned nylon shirts and belts in order to better hold the equipment and cables taut to the juggler's bodies. We recorded four-channels of EEG, along with heart rate, respiration and skin conductance. There was some definite trial-and-error preparation on how to best collect our data, but in the end it all worked out really well.

We recorded four-channels of EEG, along with heart rate, respiration and skin conductance.

I am happy to report that two full days, and much EEG conductive paste later, we had our study data. Even with helpful tips from professionals, my juggling has not improved, but I have a much greater appreciation for athletes that train in the circus arts.


How the BFE Can Help with Your Research
Planning a study and need assistance with the physical setup or design of the evaluation software? Looking to create a protocol tailored specifically to your own needs? The BFE is here to help with their Software to Meet Your Needs program, as well as Private Mentoring to answer your clinical questions.

Click on the links below to visit the BFE Online Shop for details on these two programs:
Software to Meet Your Needs
Private Mentoring

For more information, contact:
Jon Bale


17 September 2014

Depression: Retraining the Brain

Discussions of depression and suicide are typically saved for Depression Awareness events, such as Depression Awareness Month coming up in the United States in October, but the recent passing of a beloved comedic and drama film star has the public eye focusing itself on the matter a little early. 

Numerous experts and media personalities have been examining depression from different perspectives. One message we've heard repeatedly is "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem" (ironically stated by the actor himself) as a reminder for those suffering from depression to seek help. The fact is, there are a lot of treatment approaches out there from antidepressants to a variety of counseling techniques. Lifestyle changes regarding exercise, nutrition and sleep are helpful,  as is maintaining a strong social support network. Often, "seeking help" means trying a number of approaches, or combinations thereof, to see which one works best.

We challenge mental health practitioners to do the same and take a look at another approach that is often overlooked  - neurofeedback. In an upcoming webinar,  Lindsay Hollmuller, MS, LPC, BCN will discuss the benefits of using neurofeedback and quantitative encephalographic analysis with clients suffering from depression. 

One of the more interesting aspects of depression is that genetic susceptibilities are part of the origins. Some individuals carry genetic markers for depression, meaning they have a predisposition to these mood states, not unlike how some families have higher incidents of heart attacks. Disregulation between activity in the frontal lobes has been demonstrated in numerous studies to correlate to depression. This research, pioneered by Richard Davidson's research group, has shown via quantitative encephalography (qEEG) and neuroimaging, that there is a neurophysiological basis for depression. The brain's neurons fire at a variety of speeds, producing different intensities of activity across different firing rates or bandwidths. The asymmetry in the brainwaves between the left and right hemispheres is linked to Alpha bandwidth (8-12Hz) amplitude, specifically the lack of Alpha amplitude in the left lobe compared to the right lobe.

Are the depressed therefore at the mercy of their own brain, without any possibility of respite?
Perhaps there was once a time when the answer was yes, but neurofeedback offers its own answer: no. Just as doctors encourage patients with a family history of diabetes to modify their eating habits in order to avoid the onset of diabetes, neurofeedback practitioners work with clients in order to modify brainwave patterns associated with a predisposition to depression. This training need not be only a preventative treatment, but an excellent adjunct treatment to help those who currently suffer from depression.

How Does Neurofeedback Therapy Work?
The markers for depression manifest themselves as disregularities in the activity levels of the frontal lobes, which through the use of neurofeedback can be retrained. Neurofeedback therapy (or neurotherapy) can correct the hypoactivity in the left hemisphere of an individual, by reinforcement through operant conditioning. An electrode is placed on the individual's left frontal lobe to measure the brainwave activity in the Alpha bandwidth. When the activity increases to a higher level, the individual is given visual and auditory feedback (hearing a tone or seeing an animation/movie play) to reward them. Over multiple sessions, the individual's brain can slowly increase activity in the Alpha range, such that the hypoactivity in the left frontal lobe is no longer apparent.

A case study presented by Lindsay Hollmuller, MS, LPC, BCN
When “Jane Doe” arrived to her first neurofeedback session to treat her symptoms of depression, she reported feelings of sadness, difficulty in concentration and a decrease in functional activity and motivation. Treatment for “Jane Doe” consisted of 2 sessions a week for 3 weeks, a total of 6 sessions of neurofeedback.  According to her self-report daily progress notes, “Jane Doe” reported improvements in mood and emotional outlook indicating more energy, an increase in motivation and concentration, as well as a more “calm” attitude.  She verbalized that it seems as if “the fog has been lifted” and indicated that she feels she is able to more easily make decisions. 

Does this make neurofeedback a miracle cure?
No, although it opens a whole new avenue of possibilities for treating depression.  Like with all therapies, progress with neurotherapy is only achieved when the clinician and the client wholeheartedly work together. Set-backs can sometimes occur. According to Lindsay, "Aside from the mood state disorder itself, there can be other complications in treating individuals for depression with neurofeedback. Neurofeedback requires consistent, regular sessions. If an individual’s lack of motivation is severe enough, they are more likely to be inconsistent with treatment. Missing or cancelling sessions frequently may result in a disruption in treatment can may affect progress in treatment. Many times, individuals will begin to experience the positive effects of the treatment, and be more motivated to attend regular, consistent sessions."

The BFE would like to thank Lindsay Hollmuller, MS, LPC, BCN, for her recent 1-hour webinar presentation on Depression: Retraining the Brain, where she will discussed the research that suggests a neurophysiological basis for depression, and through the use of quantitative encephalographic analysis (QEEG), how retraining the brain through neurofeedback can assist in modifying brain wave patterns associated with depression.

Depression: Retraining the Brain Webinar
Lindsay Hollmuller, MS, LPC, BCN
Recording now available.

The BFE offers a wide range of online classes and webinars ideal for mental health professionals who are interested in learning more about neurofeedback. For more information, visit the BFE Online Shop.

16 July 2014

Zukor's Grind Review - The BFE Weighs In

The BFE's Research Manager Jon Bale reviews Zukor's Grind - A next-generation feedback game for neurofeedback and biofeedback.

"We're having trouble engaging our younger patients. Do you have anything that's good to use with kids?"
"I'm looking for something that's more video-gamey..."
"Do you have any feedback better than just these animations?"

These are some of comments I receive in emails and hear from time to time in the BFE online sessions. Clinical applicability and concise data collection are definite cornerstones in biofeedback and neurofeedback, but health professionals also care about subject engagement. They want their feedback tools to impress their clients with cool graphics and imagery, illicit of video games we see on the market today. Watching animations or DVDs is not always enough, so clinicians are always keeping their eyes open for that next application that can capture the attention in their practice.

This is where Zukor's Grind comes to impress. 

Zukor's Grind is both a biofeedback/neurofeedback training tool and video game. The normal type of training that we are all accustomed to is with bar graphs, thresholds,  feedback animations and/or DVDs. Zukor's Grind enhances training by replacing the simple feedback animations and DVDs with a feedback skateboarding game. Changes in the subject's physiology or brainwaves dictate the pace and progress of the game, the number of points scored, what skateboarding tricks are achieved, and which special effects are activated. 

If, for example,  you are training the subject's heart rate variability using spectral frequencies, as the Low Frequency (0.08 - 0.12 Hz) percent of total power increases, the skateboarding character performs a variety of skateboarding tricks and gains points to reward the subject. If self-regulation is maintained successfully for longer periods of time, periodic special events take place to reward the player as the skateboarding character progresses through the choice of levels.

There's no doubt in my mind that children and teenagers (and even some adults) will respond to Zukor's Grind. It is similar in terms of visual design and detail levels to what one can find on the market for true video games. Those younger subjects that are marked with difficulties paying attention and responding to a computer screen, who often remark "this is boring", will become a little less difficult for you.  The many settings that control the feedback in the game can also be easily toggled on and off, meaning each cool effect, sound or background feature can be adjusted. Progressively adding or changing game elements every few sessions could continually spur the subject's motivation with the therapy.

A question that arose: would I really want to use the a video game-like tool with an ADHD boy, where I am down-training Theta (4-8Hz) and up-training Beta (15-21Hz)? Would I be improving attentional issues, or simply presenting something that the subject would naturally already respond to? Would this training extend to mundane moments when attention is important, like listening to a boring teacher? 

My above, initial concerns with Zukor's Grind regarding novelty and over-stimulation were alleviated by regulating the game's use and adjusting game settings. The game can be used as a reward from "standard" training, such as the last 5-10 minutes of a successful training session. Even if the subject's ability to pay attention is based somewhat on the novelty of the game and the its flashiness, they are still be training during these "reward periods".  The game's detailed setting can also be turned down, in order to avoid artificial attention unrelated to the subject's "working to focus".

To see for yourself, play my review video below to get a better idea of what the game looks like, the settings you can play with and how the game is set up from the perspective of both the clinician and client.

At the BFE, I maintain an air of skepticism when manufacturers and developers come to show us their amazing, must-have product. Most of the time, what they have to present does not interest me. Personally, I lose immediate interest with any hint of marketing buzzwords and over-descriptive use of adjectives. My initial reaction to the Zukor's Grind pitch was similar, but upon using the game in a training session my opinion quickly changed. I'm stoked for skateboarding with my brain!

Zukor's Grind is now available in the BFE Online Shop. Click here for more information.

13 June 2014

Biofeedback and Neurofeedback in Sport

When you look at sporting achievements over the last decades, it seems like humans have gotten faster, better and stronger in nearly every way. What looked like a miraculous performance 15 years ago is now perceived as an average achievement reached by many school athletes. Nowadays, athletes are constantly seeking ways to enhance their physical abilities. They work on their conditioning, mechanics and employ experts from different areas to develop the best game strategies. But in recent years, much more attention had been placed on the mental side of competition.

What is happening inside the mind & body during the performance?
To obtain an inside view of our brain and body as we think, feel and perform, what the body/mind is doing at rest, during competitive task, sport professionals now have the opportunity to use the most cutting edge psychological or psycho-physiological techniques behind peak performance, a method which helps to connect the dots between mind-body interactions, called biofeedback.

Biofeedback training teaches athletes how to control and alter their physiological functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, muscle tension, breathing or brain activity in relation to healthy behaviour. Such self-regulation skills can help them move towards more optimal level of functioning.

An athlete’s emotions and thoughts lead to changes in physiology that are both measurable and controllable.
The athletes can develop greater self-awareness of how they hold tension and anxiety in the body and self-regulation techniques to decrease that tension. They became more aware of their mental state, and through regulation and control of their level of anxiety and tension in the body, they enhance their ability to focus and perform at their optimal level.

If your competitor is handling his stress better, then he is ahead of you.
The role of sport psychology and sport science is increasingly recognized as an important component of the sports team. A multidisciplinary sports science approach that caters to a variety of athletes' needs plays an increasing role in guiding athletes toward injury prevention, sport-specific training and performance enhancement. And, this is the reason why sport science experts are expressing more interested in the intersection of sport psychology, human psycho-physiology and neuroscience.

We recently spoke to Zuzana Kovacova-Radacovska, owner of Herts EEG-Biofeedback, a leading Hertfordshire biofeedback practice who is seeing an increased demand for peak performance training. "Working as a biofeedback trainer, psychologist and performance coach with clients from high pressure environment, I was recently approached by a sport science lecturer of City of Westminster College in London, Miss Deandra Smith to introduce the concept of biofeedback in sport to the students of Sport Development and Fitness course as a part of their sport psychology program", said Zuzana. "The main purpose of the presentation was to introduce biofeedback as an efficient and powerful method of performance enhancement which combines the best knowledge and expertise of sport psychology, physiology, neuroscience and advancements in technology."

The lecture contained a basic theory of the method, history of biofeedback in sport and introduction to the different modalities of biofeedback such as temperature, heart rate variability, galvanic skin response, respiration and neurofeedback. Students were first taught how to use biofeedback without any equipment - just by observing the activity of their own bodies to decrease the level of anxiety by regulating the breathing.

Adding a physiology component to the training program allows both the athlete and trainer to see their progress.
After becoming more familiar with the role of biofeedback in sport psychology they got an opportunity to step into the shoes of sport psychologists and prepare the assessments and treatment protocols for two different case studies. However, the most entertaining part occurred when Zuzana presented a real time application of biofeedback by attaching different types of electrodes on volunteers. "Students could experience how to manage and decrease anxiety caused by peer pressure and sustain focus while performing under difficult conditions." said Zuzana.

"In sport there are fine lines between victory and defeat and it is often the marginal gains in something that not all other athletes or teams practice that can make the difference." - Zuzana Kovacova-Radacovska

An increasing number of elite and professional athletes and teams are adding a peak performance physiology training element to their overall training regime. The BFE has had the pleasure of working with a number of professionals in the field and sharing their knowledge in the form of specialized software, online education and regional workshops that guide professionals interested in learning more about this exciting field.

“The future appears promising as I’m currently in the process of agreeing to deliver similar presentation to the sport science students of a local private college. I hope more colleges and universities will express an interest to give their students a unique opportunity to become familiar with the method of biofeedback which can significantly help to improve athletic performance”, says Zuzana.

http://bfe.org/meeting/17th/BFE Sports Flyer Rome Meeting Info - 11 Jun 2014.pdf

For more information on peak performance training
available through the BFE download our brochure
or visit the BFE Online Shop.

25 May 2014

Learn From the Best: Drs. Lynda and Michael Thompson

The BFE ventured into the world of specialized biofeedback and neurofeedback software packages almost 10 years ago. We moved slowly and cautiously, to create custom-built  sessions in order to share methods of experts in the field of bio and neurofeedback. The BFE will forever be grateful to Dr. Michael and Lynda Thompson, for their collaboration.  As well-known names in our field, their willingness to share the collective insight of their ADD Centre in Toronto, Canada, gave the BFE its first opportunity to build a software suite that gives a helping-hand to any therapist looking to advance client care with bio/neurofeedback.  From their knowledge was born the "Setting Up For Clinical Success" suite and "Specialized Application Scripts" suite, now often referred to as simply the "Thompsons' Suites".

Training display for calming the brain, while monitoring the individual's physiology - 
suitable for performance enhancement with athletes and over thinkers.

Many clinicians swear by the Thompsons' Suites as being the best and most in-depth collection of screens and scripts available, for such a wide spectrum of client disorders and needs.  The Thompsons' design and methods extend to ADD/ADHD, Aspergers,  autism, anxiety , depression , optimal performance training, seizures, stress and more.  Each display arranges different relevant physiology and EEG bandwidth statistics, such that every individual possible requirement for clinical treatment is covered within the whole suite. The "Setting Up For Clinical Success" suite provides all the display screens for independent training, while the "Specialized Application Scripts" suite provides pre-defined 20-to-30 minute long  protocols for training ADD/ADHD, seizures, Aspergers, dyslexia, depression and optimal performance. 

Training display for focusing the mind and minimizing distractibility, typically used with 
ADD/ADHD children - point counters included for gauging success and challenging the subject.

The guidance and patience the Thompsons provided the BFE can also be found at the workshops they host. Whether you're a novice clinician that wants to improve your basic knowledge of the clinical EEG biofeedback field, or an experienced practitioner that desires to broach advanced material, their Neurofeedback Fundamentals workshop is the opportunity to learn from these world leaders of the field. We strongly encourage any professional that is interested in neurofeedback to consider the Thompsons' workshop. Past workshops have welcomed participants from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, United States, and Canada.
Neurofeedback Fundamentals Workshops    
Date:  June 2-6, 2014 and Sept 29 - Oct 3, 2014
Location:  Stoney Lake, ON  Canada
Contact:  ADDCentre@gmail.com or www.addcentre.com

For more information on the next Neurofeedback Fundamentals Workshop hosted by Michael and Lynda Thompson, just outside of Toronto, Canada, contact the ADD Centre directly at: ADDCentre@gmail.com.

Interested in learning more about the Thompsons' Suites? Click on the titles below for a full description:

Recently, Dr. Lynda Thompson spoke about neurofeedback on The Agenda with Steve Paikin.  Click on the image below to view the interview.


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