Neurofeedback Could Help Address Chemo Brain

By Leah Lawrence - Last Updated: September 20, 2022

Many breast cancer survivors describe side effects such as nausea, fatigue, stress, or neurocognitive deficits that are known as chemo brain. A new study has identified an intervention that would help to restore normal functioning in the brains of these patients through neurofeedback, or electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback.

Previous research has found that neurofeedback, in which brain waves are trained to operate in optimal frequency patterns, has helped improve cognitive function in patients with cognitive impairments like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, stroke and seizures, as well as helped regulate brain activity in patients with substance use and post-traumatic stress disorders.

The pilot study included nine women who underwent 18 sessions of EEG feedback training in which audio and visual feedback occurred with successful shifting in EEG patterns. Patients were aged between 21 and 65 and had completed chemotherapy at least one year prior. All patients had symptoms of chemo brain that were disrupting their work and personal lives. The study was published in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine.

A clinical nurse practitioner conducted a brief mental status interview with each patient to confirm that they had persistent difficulties with concentration, memory, organization, and confusion.

Before the neurofeedback training sessions began, study participants received neurocognitive and psychological tests, as well as a quantitative EEG to measure brain wave frequencies that could be compared to normative data. The pre-training quantitative EEGs shows that each study participant had abnormal brain waive activity compared to healthy adult brains.

Each neurofeedback session was scheduled for 30 minutes over a six-week period.

During these sessions, sensors were placed on the scalp and earlobe to monitor brain wave frequencies. Patients were shown a monitor displaying these frequencies in bar graphs, and they were told their goal was to increase or decrease the amplitude of specific frequency ranges to turn each bar green. They received audio and visual feedback when they successfully shifted these amplitudes.

Quantitative EEGs taken after the 18 neurofeedback sessions were completed found that brain wave frequencies had significantly normalized in seven of the nine study participants, and they had significantly improved in the other two.

Neurocognitive testing conducted after the neurofeedback sessions showed substantial improvements in the study participants’ information processing, executive set shifting and sustained visual attention. Each improved in everyday functioning and had overall psychological improvement.


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