My first encounter with audiovisual entrainment (AVE) was in a psychologist’s office. He handed me a pair of what looked like goggle-sized mirrored sunglasses (Omniscreen), but I couldn’t see through them. Instead, a translucent plastic screen covered the inside of the glasses, behind which lay LED lights, four to each lens. He then handed me a pair of headphones. Once I had them on, he turned a black box on. Light flashed in my eyes and a tone pulsed in my ears in a synchronized pattern. I didn’t see white light flashes though; instead the brain translated it into colours and patterns. (I soon discovered that different sessions produced different colours and some even turned black, like there was barely any light there.) He did that for 5 minutes to see how I would react and if I would have any problems with this technology, which he called neurofeedback. I had no problems with it – it almost put me to sleep. Rather nice. After that, I looked forward to my neurofeedback sessions. Although sometimes a bit of dizziness and tiredness with amazingly improved vision followed each session, over time as my brain function improved, those effects have diminished or gone. (The improved vision continues though.) Within 10 minutes, or even during a session, I have more energy, am more alert, have an active mind. Originally, due to my closed head injury, my mind was pretty sluggish with periods of total blankness, like an empty, quiet cave. And so using a gizmo that brought it to life was pretty amazing. Since I’m sensitive to lights and sounds, I had the levels of both low (and still do). After some time, he switched me from a unit that used white LED lights to one that used red. The red lights have a more intense effect; hence you can’t start right away on them. However, he never told me that there was a home unit! I found out when I discontinued my sessions with him (I had benefitted all I could, time to move on) and met Dr. Lynda Thompson of the ADD Clinic. As I’ve related in a previous post, she told me of Mind Alive and to purchase one of their AVE units. That was back in 2005.
I purchased the DAVID Paradise XL, now replaced by newer versions. DAVID stands for Digital Audio Visual Integration Device. It’s a black box that has over 35 preprogrammed sessions on it as well as the ability to create your own. It came with yellow, violet, and green coloured plastic screens that can stick to the inside via velcro to effectively change the colour of the lights.* I used the SMR (Sensory Motor Rhythm) session first; it works for 24 minutes to entrain the brain at 14 Hz beta waves. I slept for an hour and a half afterwards (sleep does seem to be my initial reaction to these electrical kind of gizmos), and woke up for the first time in over 5 years not feeling like a zombie, literally. I was astounded and very, very happy. Since then, after experimenting, I’ve settled on my favourite sessions and use those for the most part. However, as I continue to improve, some sessions have become less effective while others moreso. It’s a good idea to have a glass of water ready to drink after a session. As I mention in another post, hydration is good for the brain!
Beta sessions are meant to be used in the morning, preferably before 2:00 pm, to get you going.
SMR, 14 Hz, Beta: SMR is relaxed, focused attention. For a small subset of the population, stimulating SMR waves induces sleep. That was me. For years I used it to help me go to sleep or return to sleep if I awoke in the middle of the night. But suddenly, it stopped putting me to sleep. Weird. Now I respond like the normal population and use this session in the morning to help me prep for situations that involve crowds where I need to be focused – and relaxed as I don’t like the distracting, overwhelming noise of crowds. In such a situation, being relaxed and being able to pay attention to an event or a person is important.
16 Hz, Beta: This session helps people with fatigue from fibromyalgia. In the first few years, this helped with my sleep. However, even if I’m tired and achy, as opposed to just tired, and I use this one, it is no longer as effective. I assume that’s because my fibromyalgia is no longer much of a problem – the brain injury-induced problems remain the overwhelming issue.
18 Hz, Beta: 18 Hz beta waves are produced when doing cognitive tasks like problem solving without inducing rumination. This session is to help people whose fatigue is from anxiety and trauma. I like this one a lot. It energizes me, makes me feel like a happy puppy, ready to go play – or write in my case.
I have never used the sessions that entrain higher frequency beta waves because rumination occurs about 20 Hz or above. Because, like many with brain injuries, I have a problem with rumination, it’s not a good idea to inadvertently stimulate it!
Alpha sessions can be used in the morning or afternoon, but generally not a good idea to use them at night. You might be up for awhile.
10 Hz, Alpha, 14 minutes: This is like a quick coffee break sans the jitters. I don’t give up my coffee, but instead of having a second cup, I use this session, and it perks me up. This is the session to begin with when first using the AVE for entraining alpha waves. I like the brevity of this session. I sometimes get frustrated with how much time I have to spend being what I call “duct taped” together with gizmos like AVE, CES (cranial electrical stimulation), micro-TENS, etc. etc., so using this one gives me some benefit without taking time from activities I enjoy.
10 Hz, Alpha, 32 minutes: This is the normal-length alpha session. It does two things: stimulate the mind into creating, in a relaxed, happy way; and relieve pain. At some point in the session, thoughts begin to appear; imagination sparks; ideas flow. It’s quite nice. If a migraine is beginning, then this session stops the pain progressing. Research suggests that it can help with migraine; I read one study years ago that said 20 minutes of an alpha session with the visual intensity as high as one can stand it is effective against migraines. I only jack up the visual intensity for this use. It also works for neck pain – which is the cause of my migraines – and other muscular pain. Although it doesn’t get rid of it – unless I’m smart enough to use it as soon as the pain starts – it does stop it so that it doesn’t progress to the “let me die in the dark” level.
10.6 Hz, Apha, 30 minutes: In people with high IQs, alpha waves are generally cycle at higher frequencies. Because closed head injury can drop the alpha-wave frequency down several notches, this session helps to restore it (temporarily) to the pre-injury levels. I don’t like this one as much, probably because my brain is not yet ready to return to normal in this area. I use it occasionally when I’m going to tackle a harder-than-usual mental task. Its effects don’t last that long, so I use it not too long before I do the task.
The mixed sessions are interesting as they entrain the left side of the brain differently from the right side in order to target specific problems.
SMR Left (right side of brain)/18 Hz Right (left side of brain)/10 Hz both, ADD: I used a milder form of this mixed session, called “Brain Brightener” for years before graduating to this one. They both do the same thing, except the Brain Brightener is gentler. And when you have a closed head injury, you want to set yourself up for success and you want to have things be gentle on you in the beginning so you’re more likely to use it again. The ADD session, as its name implies, is to treat Attention Deficit Disorder. It stimulates the mind through rapid transitions between Beta and Alpha frequencies; it improves mental function and memory. When I find my restlessness, my distractibility is increasing, I use this session.
0.5-1 Hz, Sub-Delta: This is a passive session with no entrainment. It calms the hypothalamus. I find it’s most effective when used just before going to sleep. I prefer that time because it induces sleep when you need to sleep, and it more effectively reduces my body temperature at that hour than if I use it in the middle of the afternoon. Also, if I use it in the middle of the afternoon, it makes me very thirsty, and I absolutely need water close at hand to drink immediately afterwards.
I tried to use the Schumann Resonance (the earth’s electromagnetic resonance) alpha-theta sessions of 7.8 Hz, but they engendered unpleasant emotions in me. That may be because it was activating my emotional centre, which was off for almost 6 years and is still dampened. Activating it means a flood of emotions. Not nice. Also, closed head injury increases the production of theta and delta waves – my EEG assessments showed several areas of my brain busy snoozing in theta and delta land instead of working. My brain biofeedback treatment sessions worked to suppress those waves while increasing alpha and beta waves. I don’t wish to then increase them again through AVE. That’s why I mostly avoid the Theta and Delta sessions, and only use the sub-Delta one because it’s passive.
AVE is my favourite way to help my brain function better. And it makes logical sense. The brain is an electrical organ whose cells are designed to conduct electricity and to create electricity and which uses chemicals to propagate electrical activity between cells. It’s an ingenious organ. But for too long, medical researchers have been focussing on the chemical aspects only. But when the movement of electrons is the brain’s primary way of controlling the body and your mental activities, that narrow focus ignores innovative ways to effect change. Some medical researchers are moving that way, but boy do they like the dramatic route. They are experimenting with methods like large magnets (for depression, as magnets can induce electrical activity) or deep-brain stimulation. But really, why gravitate to such invasive, risky methods with side effects when we have built into us natural methods of creating electrical activity. They’re called the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. All these take sensory inputs, convert them to electrical inputs, and send them to the brain for processing and acting on. AVE uses two of these input methods – eyes and ears – to stimulate the brain in a way that avoids the big risks associated with brain surgery and large magnets. It’s cheaper and more accessible too.
*Mind Alive has come out with newer versions, available in black, yellow, and translucent blue. They also have a wider variety of Omniscreens available, including ones you can see through. And instead of coloured lenses, they now sell Omniscreens similar to what my psychologist used, where the lights are different colours, including red. I’m not sure I’d use the red one now as it’s been so long and I’m no longer under the care of a psychologist who understands this technology, but for someone who has a brain injury and is under the care of an expert, I’d recommend it. I recently had to replace my Omniscreen because my house help continued to wrap the cord around the lenses even though I’d told her not to. Result: screwed up cord. The visual part of this system is very delicate. So note to the wise: put the Omniscreen away where some errant cleaning lady, homemaker, or personal care worker can’t damage it! However, I have to say the new one is much nicer. The cord can now be unplugged from the glasses as well as the device so it’s less likely to be damaged. (My original one was hardwired.)