Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease: Does Neurofeedback Help?

What is Dementia ?

Dementia is a collective term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness. It is a symptom of several underlying diseases and brain disorders. Dementia is a generalized term to describe correlating symptoms of impairment in memory, communication, and thinking.

Usually the term applies to those over the age of 65, with under 65 considered “early onset dementia”. If one begins losing cognitive abilities at a greater rate than normal aging, then they may be showing signs of Dementia. 

A common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. This type of dementia can be classified as reversible or irreversible depending on the cause of the affected cognitive areas. The cause of Dementia is widely contributed to damage in the brain. The brain can be damaged by several causes, such as infections, interruptions in the brain’s blood supply or by neurodegenerative diseases. In the case of neurodegenerative diseases, brain cells degenerate and die quicker than usually is expected with ‘normal aging’. This degenerating impacts and reduces one’s cognitive and sometimes physical abilities.

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Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia is “an ongoing decline of the brain and its abilities”. It is considered more of an umbrella statement as there are many specific types and causes of dementia. Each is brain specific and manifests differently for each person. To diagnose a case of Dementia has a basic assumption that associated symptoms must be present for at least six months. 

There are a number of symptoms that may or may not occur:

  • Memory loss
  • Decreased understand or ability to learn
  • Reduced thinking speed
  • Poor attention or beginning signs of attention problems
  • Difficulties finding the right word to use or forming sentences
  • Lack of judgment or reason
  • Difficulties retaining or recalling past events
  • Disorientation (time, place or persons)
  • Losing interest in social activities
  • Incontinency
  • Disorganized or restless behavior
  • Sudden Mood swings (anger or crying spells)
  • Depression / Anxiety
  • Delusions of persecution (psychosis) 

Treatment for Dementia

Dementia is progressive. There is no known cure. But this isn’t a sentence to not live life fully. Dietary supplements, surgery or medication can be determined if the best course of action depends on the individual case. Medication is normally prescribed to help to prevent symptoms from worsening or to modify other coexisting symptoms or disorders; such as anxiety. A number of psychological treatments can be beneficial and prolong the progressive nature of the condition. Behavioral therapies, validation therapy, reality orientation therapy or cognitive stimulation techniques can help one better manage their symptoms. 

Neurofeedback and Dementia

A form of cognitive stimulation is Neurofeedback brain training. This type of modality cannot reverse a degenerative cognitive disease (as in structural damage in the brain, such as what occurs with Alzheimer’s disease) but it can help improve symptoms and delay progression if completed consistently. It is hard to say the length of time needed as each case is different but to prevent relapse, it is likely that neurofeedback training would be a benefit if completed as a regular daily task to help fight against mental fatigue and maximize the healthy areas of the brain.

Neurofeedback and Dementia Research

We break down a few studies that have been conducted on Dementia and neurofeedback techniques. What has been found that neurofeedback can be used solo or in collaboration with other treatment modalities. Memory, verbal and comprehension can improve and neurofeedback when used collaboratively with cholinesterase inhibitors may be a potential treatment by which the progressive deterioration in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease can be stabilized.

Click the studies below for full journal article access.

Luijmes, R. E. The Effectiveness of Neurofeedback on Cognitive Functioning in Patients with Alzheimer s Disease.

The results of this study indicate that neurofeedback, in combination with treatment with cholinesterase inhibitors, may be a potential treatment by which the progressive deterioration in patients with AD can be stabilized.

Fernandez, T., Becerra, J., Roca, M., Espino, M., Bahlke, M. Y., Harmony, T., … & Diaz-Comas, L. (2008). Neurofeedback in healthy elderly humans with electroencephalographic risk of cognitive impairment. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

This study found that the memory of Dementia patients “significantly improved” following Neurofeedback, and observed to be more effective for patients at an earlier stage of dementia

Efficacy Of Neurofeedback For Executive And Memory Function In Dementia Marvin H. Berman, Jon A. Frederick  Alzheimer’s & dementia: The journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. 1 July 2009 (volume 5 issue 4 Page e8 DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2009.07.046).

This study showed that neurofeedback training resulted in significant improvement in memory and some aspects of executive function, compared to a waiting list control, suggesting that neurofeedback is a “possibly efficacious” treatment for dementia. The finding that the efficacy of neurofeedback is greater in persons with more intact memory function suggests that this intervention is more strongly indicated for earlier stage cases. It also suggests that learning and memory are involved in neurofeedback’s mechanism of action.

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