Articles on adoption, foster care, & pediatrics

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Home Biofeedback

True confessions - both Dr Bledsoe and I have something at home called "Journey to Wild Divine". It's a home biofeedback system and "Myst-style" computer game that uses the same biofeedback technology (finger sensors measuring heart rate variability and skin conductance) that our local hospital's adolescent clinic uses to help with headaches, pain syndromes, self-regulation, and chronic stress.

We think it's an engaging and remarkably effective way to learn self-calming, better emotional control, and alertness, and have been recommending it to our older school-age patients with low frustration tolerance, poor self-regulation, ADHD, anxiety, and stress-related issues like headaches and chronic abdominal pain. The sensors measure signs of your nervous system's balance between sympathetic tone (energized, agitated, "fight-or-flight") and parasympathetic tone (calm, relaxed, "rest-and-digest"). Children who've experienced early stress and neglect tend to be chock-full of the former, with precious little of the latter. With practice, you and your kids can learn to calm yourselves much more quickly and effectively.

In the game, you move through an idyllic landscape, performing various tasks using your developing abilities to become calmer or more alert and energized. Levitating and gently lowering rocks, juggling balls, building stairways, and other nifty activities let you hone these skills until they become effortless. This game is begging for a Star Wars version, since it's really all about the Force, and Yoda would be quite at home with the game's collection of gurus ...

It's not cheap ($159), but that's about what one biofeedback clinic session would cost, and you can do it at home whenever you want. It's actually quite a good deal compared to other home biofeedback devices like HeartMath's emWavePC, handheld emWave (excellent portable device) and StressEraser, which I also like. You will need a fairly modern PC or MAC, since it uses a lot of processing and graphics power. You will also need a modicum of tolerance for SNAG's (Sensitive New Age Guys/Gals) and "what's my mantra?" mysticalisms.

I also recommend their followup game, "Wisdom Quest", which uses the same software but has 30 new biofeedback activities, which are easy to access through a new "Guided Activity Mode". You should also download a free update for their first game that enables a similar "Chapter Tour", so that you can revisit favorite activities without having to load saved games.

Another device that we have no experience with whatsoever but is appealing to my inner geek is S.M.A.R.T. Brain Games, a home neurofeedback device that uses actual brain wave sensors (instead of heart and sweat sensors) mounted in a bike helmet to help control Playstation (or Xbox) video games with your mental states. They use the ratio of beta to theta brain waves (a measure of focussed alertness and concentration) to control your speed and progress in off-the-shelf Playstation games, especially racing and jumping games.

The cost of this "brain training system"? $600 for the helmet, neurosensors, processor, and modified Playstation controller. Yowzah! But again, possibly cost-effective if you were planning on paying out-of-pocket for actual neurofeedback clinic sessions. For folks desiring neurofeedback treatment for a specific condition (like ADHD), you'd probably be best off starting, at least, with an experienced neurofeedback provider ... EEG Spectrum is a good place to start for general information and local providers.

The research on neurobiofeedback and ADHD is quite promising, if not yet definitive; see this "Play Attention!" article for a favorable take on this particular system, and The Role of Neurofeedback in the Treatment of ADHD for a review of the latest research. My opinion is that neurofeedback may well be a useful adjunct to other medical or behavioral treatments for ADHD. My hope is that it will be more broadly helpful for my patients with anxiety, dysregulation, PTSD, and perhaps even aspects of attachment difficulties. I'll keep you posted as I learn more ...