It’s been a roller coaster the last few months of hope and regression. I got a taste of what having more GABA in my brain means to good functionality. But then I was tossed out of the research trial in which I’d received the GABA-boosting research medication and the commercially available previous version didn’t work well and made me feel ill. But then I connected gamma waves to GABA, called Dr Lynda Thompson at the ADD Centre, asked her about gamma waves, and by the end of that conversation we’d decided to try doing biofeedback on gamma waves at the 40Hz frequency, something not done though it seems to be a frequency affected by brain injury.
Today I began that biofeedback. I went in for a reassessment and an initial training session. As had been done before, I began with a questionnaire then the boring 1-2 test, officially known as the IVA test. They have it installed on a new computer! Well, it has been five years since I last did it. But the test looks and sounds the same: A simple DOS interface with amber fonts and lines for the visual part and headphones (much more comfortable these ones than last time) for the auditory part. To do the test, you click the mouse when you see a green “1” flash in an amber-outlined box or hear “one” but not for the number two. It’s 15 minutes of sheer boredom. Which is the point. Can you pay attention? Can you sustain it? To my astonishment, I felt more competent than last time, and I know I did well back in 2007. The results come immediately, and I did do better!
It’s true: spontaneous improvement continues long after biofeedback ends.
The other attention test, TOVA, I hadn’t done before, maybe because it’s hard on my eyes. A rectangle flashes on the screen then off in less time than it takes to blink. You click the switch if a black box is at the top of the rectangle but not if it’s at the bottom. It’s both simpler and harder than the IVA — harder because you have to sustain attention through long streams of bottom boxes then suddenly it’s the other way around, leading to the danger of false clicking when switches again.
I was in 99th percentile for my age group. Ahem.*
Then at last it’s time for the single-electrode EEG. They placed the single electrode in the CZ position because it picks up brain waves from the frontal cortex, sensory motor, and deeper structures like anterior cingulate and it is also less affected by muscle tension artefact.
CZ is dead centre on top of head.
After doing a three-minute baseline reading, we began the training. We had picked HRV (heart rate variability, an indicator of heart attack risk), bowling (yay!), sailing, and clouds screens. The HRV screen is designed to increase HRV by getting you to breathe at six breaths per minute for three to five minutes. It’s one thing I do well, breathing that is, thanks to a psychologist I had back in 2000 who spent much time teaching me. But my HRV is not so hot. Less than 5 on the scale. The heart rate is supposed to sync up with breathing rhythm and be at least 10.
In the US, they have observed that brain injuries in American vets from Iraq or Afghanistan have affected their hearts. I’ve yet to find a Canadian doc to have noticed that, yet at the ADD Centre, they are aware of it and a trainer who helped me with my exercise regimen was well aware of it in athletes who’d had brain injuries. Says a lot, eh?
Anyway we began the training with the bowling screen. How do you do it — get the bowling ball on the computer screen to roll down the alley and strike out the pins then repeat? Uh, I don’t know. I just look at the pins and try to make the ball move. It moves when my gamma waves rise above a certain threshold, my EMG drops below a certain threshold, and other brain wave frequencies we want to inhibit in me also drop. It moved! Then it stopped. Then it moved! And kept on moving! Then it stopped. And so it went, as biofeedback is wont to do.
The clouds screen had only the first two parameters. I breathed too slow, and I went into a hypnotic state, like I was being sucked into the clouds. I don’t think that’s a good screen for me! I did make the clouds move though and the planets appear.
The sailboats screen is the hardest, always has been for me. You want the gamma wave boat to beat the EMG and other brain wave boats as they race left to right across the screen. I could really feel the effort of trying to move that gamma wave boat while continuing to breathe at six breaths per minute to keep EMG down. I was tiring, and so I was so surprised that my brain “learned” during that screen too.
The goal is to increase my gamma waves while decreasing my EMG or muscle tension. And you know what? I did it! But boy did I have a concentration headache in that area.
*The average drops as age increases. But I wonder if it’s not so much age as the reason why but more a factor of not using the brain, just like how when people move less as they get older, their girth increases. It’s not age so much as becoming sedentary.