Twelve-year-old Riley Nichols sits in a comfortable chair in a dimly lit room. Sensors are placed on his scalp and ears. He focuses on a screen in front of him where there is a computerized figure walking outdoors. He has to keep concentrating on the figure. If his mind wanders, the figure will stop walking or fall down.
This is one of the activities patients may be asked to take part in during a typical neurofeedback session at the office of Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, an educational psychologist and neurofeedback practitioner on Ethan Allen Highway in Ridgefield.
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that has existed for over 40 years. "It is a learning strategy that enables people to alter their brain waves. When information about a person's own brain wave characteristics is made available to him, he can learn to change them. You can think of it as exercise for the brain," says Capanna-Hodge, 39, of Brookfield.
Conditions that neurofeedback can be used to treat include attention deficit disorders, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, depression, dyslexia, learning disabilities, sensory integration dysfunction, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and traumatic brain injury.
"In light of everything we did for him, I feel the neurofeedback had the most dramatic effect," she adds.
The most common conditions people receive neurofeedback for are stress reduction and anxiety, which is what led Ridgefield resident Karen Siclare to visit Capanna-Hodge over the summer.
"I was dealing with significant anxiety due to a busy work schedule and family issues," says Siclare, 50, who works as a clinical nutritionist and is assistant director of the graduate program in nutrition at the University of Bridgeport.
Just two neurofeedback sessions, in conjunction with nutritional therapy, were enough to "push me completely back to normal. I was much calmer and I didn't have any more tightness in my chest," she says. "I now recommend this treatment to my own clients."
According to the Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, studies of neurofeedback done with children with attention hyperactivity disorders show significant improvement in 70 percent to 80 percent of participants.
One of Capanna-Hodge's specialties is treating patients with reading disabilities. "Reading is the most neurologically complex task you'll ever do in your life. Rocket science is actually easier.
"Reading involves so many complex processes -- from your eyes, to the interpretation of sounds, to mapping sounds to the actual print, to actually reading words," explains Capanna-Hodge, a mother of two young children.
Children most commonly seek her treatment in grades three, six, and nine, and when they are freshmen in college. "These are all transitional times, times when our workload changes or increases," she says.
According to Capanna-Hodge, "The great thing about neurofeedback is that it works really synergistically with a lot of other treatments for whatever your condition is," she says.
Unless there is a physical or emotional trauma, the results achieved from neurofeedback are permanent since "once the brain learns the desired behavior, it won't be unlearned," she says.
"A main reason why people come to me is they have had negative side effects with medication, or they want to avoid taking medication altogether," Capanna-Hodge says. "While medication is important, there are so many other avenues worth exploring first."