Can Neurofeedback Help With Epilepsy ?

1972 when Barry Sterman eliminated seizures in a 23 year-old female epileptic, who then came off medication and got a driving licence.   He described how he accidentally discovered how neurofeedback-trained cats were less susceptible to seizures when exposed to rocket fuel, and went on to replicate this remarkable discovery in monkeys then humans. He also summarises 18 separate peer-reviewed journal studies on Neurofeedback for epilepsy over a 25 year period, covering 174 patients and an average success rate of 66%: Barry, M.B. (2000). Basic concepts and clinical findings in the treatment of seizure disorders with EEG operant conditioning. Clinical Electroencephalography, 31(1).

What is Epilepsy ?

Similiar to Migraine, Epilepsy is a neurological disturbance, manifesting in seizures. This can either be a single seizure or a one with repeated occurrences. Sometimes epileptic seizures are limited to childhood, in other cases Epilepsy can remain lifelong. The cause of Epilepsy can’t always be determined, but it cause is believed a result from brain damage and abnormal brain activity. Strong correlation between factors such as brain trauma, cancer, strokes, and drug/alcohol abuse as the cause of Epilepsy. brainwave patterns during elileptic seizures

Symptoms of Epilepsy

The main symptoms of Epilepsy are (recurrent) seizures. These seizures vary in types and severity, depending on which brain area is affected. For some a seizure feels like being in a ‘trance’ for seconds or minutes, others experience a decreased level of consciousness or that their body shakes uncontrollable, also known as convulsions. Other common symptoms of seizures are biting the tip or sides of the tongue and experiencing an aura, which is seen as a ‘warning sign’ prior to a seizure. This aura can for example manifest in a curious smell or taste, feelings of déjà vu or like being in a dream and feelings of fear or anxiety. Despite the great variety in seizures, doctors developed a way to classify seizures; by how much of the brain is affected. The classifications* used are

  • partial seizures (simple and complex) – where only a small part of the brain is affected ; and
  • generalised seizures – where most or all of the brain is affected.

There are two types of partial seizures (simple partial seizures and complex partial seizures) and generalised seizures are divided in six categories:

At the moment there aren’t any treatments that can ‘cure’ Epilepsy; seizures are mostly controlled with medication, called anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Unfortunately, finding the correct dose can take a long time and in 30% of the people with Epilepsy, medication isn’t sufficient to control seizures. Surgery in order to remove affected brain area(s) or installing an electrical device to control seizures are other options, but these options are limited to more difficult cases.

Treatment of Epilepsy

Neurofeedback and Epilepsy

With Neurofeedback, specific symptoms of Epilepsy can be targeted, however, every individual is different and to what extent the brain can recover or compensate abnormalities. Since abnormal brain activity, also know as instabilities, are seen as the main cause of Epilepsy, the most important goal during Neurofeedback training is stabilising the brain. In other words, ‘to train the brain to control it’s abnormal activity’. Neurofeedback is a treatment option applicable to all types of seizures and helpful in the case of brain damage and brain abnormalities.
Other training options can be physical calming, resulting in improved balance and coordination, or enhancing emotional control, which for example can reduce anxiety. As the research shows, Neurofeedback can be very effective in reducing or eliminating epileptic seizures. Some people might describe Neurofeedback as a ‘cure’ for epilepsy, however we don’t use this term as we don’t regard brain deregulation as a ‘disease’.

A grand mal seizure (Definition – Mayo Clinic Staff)

— also known as a generalized tonic-clonic seizure — features a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. It’s the type of seizure most people picture when they think about seizures in general.

Grand mal seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity throughout the brain. Most of the time grand mal seizure is caused by epilepsy. In some cases, however, this type of seizure is triggered by other health problems, such as extremely low blood sugar, high fever or a stroke.   Many people who have a grand mal seizure will never have another one. However, some people need daily anti-seizure medications to control and prevent future grand mal seizure.