Neurofeedback therapy is a form of “brain training” that may help reduce ADHD symptoms.

Treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often involves medication and behavior therapy. But these lines of treatment don’t always have the desired results and medications often come with side effects, like decreased appetite or sleep problems.

Neurofeedback therapy is an alternative treatment option that some experts believe can reduce ADHD symptoms. However, there are mixed views on how effective neurofeedback is for ADHD.

Neurofeedback therapy can be used as an intervention for ADHD.

Neurofeedback uses an electroencephalogram (EEG) — a noninvasive device that measures electrical activity in the brain — to help you learn to monitor and regulate your brain activity. The aim is to change your behavior by training your brain.

Your brain and body are connected, so when you change your behavior you can change your brain — and vice versa.

Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback therapy. Biofeedback is when you learn to control a bodily function — such as your heart rate or skin temperature — using sensors attached to your body and electric signals. This can help reduce headaches and chronic pain.

If you or your loved one receives a diagnosis of ADHD, you may have noticed they’re more distracted than others or may have a hard time concentrating. Neurofeedback therapy may help to train the brain to help people be more focused and attentive.

Research from 2016 shows people with ADHD have more theta waves (slow waves) and fewer beta waves (fast waves) than people without ADHD. The goal of neurofeedback therapy is to bring the waves back to their baseline activity level to reduce ADHD symptoms.

During your first neurofeedback session, a doctor or therapist will take detailed accounts of your symptoms and treatment history. They will place a cap lined with electrodes on your head. The electrodes measure your brain’s activity and are not painful.

Next, they will ask you to perform a cognitive task, like reading. The results of your brain activity will appear on a screen, and your healthcare professionals can analyze your brain wave patterns.

During the following sessions, you will wear the same headgear and be asked to perform different tasks, such as:

  • simple tasks, like listening to a single tone
  • watching a video
  • complex tasks, like playing a video game created forneurofeedback therapy

While you or your loved one perform these tasks, an EEG will measure the different frequencies of your brain waves and record your brain activity. If you lose focus during a video game, the game will slow and stop, and only restart when the portion of your brain that focuses is exercised.

Proponents of this therapy believe that when people with ADHD increase their attention levels their behavior will change and result in a decrease in symptoms.

There are mixed findings on how effective neurofeedback is for treating ADHD.

Research from 2009 looked into studies that linked neurofeedback therapy to improved impulse control and hyperactivity in people with ADHD. The authors suggested neurofeedback may be effective in treating ADHD not as a stand-alone therapy but as a treatment among other interventions.

A 2011 study found that neurofeedback may have a placebo effect. Researchers studied 14 children ages 8 to 15 years. Eight of the children had ADHD, and six did not. Both groups received 30 sessions of neurofeedback, and those without ADHD received placebo neurofeedback. Results showed that both groups experienced similar changes.

A 2016 review concluded that neurofeedback therapy is a safe and noninvasive procedure that showed improvements in treating conditions such as ADHD. But its effectiveness in terms of scientific evidence has often been called into question.

The authors point out other drawbacks of this type of therapy, such as the high cost and the short duration of the therapy’s effects.

Research from 2019 showed neurofeedback as a promising treatment for ADHD. The authors found that in as few as 35 sessions this form of treatment can be as effective as stimulants in reducing symptoms of ADHD.

According to the study, it’s also possible to potentially discontinue medication (under the direction of a physician) after extensive neurofeedback treatment.

It’s important to note that further research is still needed to better understand how neurofeedback protocols work and how effective they are.

You can learn about other treatment options for ADHD here.

Neurofeedback is generally considered a safe and noninvasive therapy. However, according to a 2007 study, it may have negative effects, including:

  • nausea
  • headaches
  • muscle twitches
  • emotional symptoms, such as feeling upset or angry
  • tics
  • brain fog or confusion
  • sleep disturbances

Neurofeedback is a form of therapy that helps a person with ADHD regulate their brain activity by using an EEG device. The EEG measures brain activity.

The goal of neurofeedback therapy is to relieve the symptoms of ADHD. But research has mixed findings on whether it’s an effective treatment option. Some studies show this therapy effectively reduces ADHD symptoms, while other research calls into question the duration of the procedure’s effects.

If you’re considering neurofeedback as a form of therapy to relieve your or your child’s ADHD symptoms, you can talk with a doctor to learn more about the therapy, whether you or your child is a good candidate, and address any concerns or questions you may have.

To learn more about ADHD and treatment options, you can check out Psych Central’s ADHD resource hub.