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Some mental health researchers no longer study the workings of individual neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Instead, they study neural networks, or how regional brain circuits function as a unit.
They have found the firing of neural networks can be influenced by brain-computer interfaces (BCI). This may lead to new treatments for cognitive and emotional issues—including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Brain-computer interfaces are a direct means of communication between a computer and someone’s brain. The computer detects the brain’s electrical activity via an EEG (electroencephalogram) and displays it as graphical patterns on a monitor.
By comparing a person’s wave patterns to their previous EEG measurements or to an age-appropriate database, problematic brain circuits are identified. Then, with brain training, the individual learns to influence the circuits, teaching them to work more effectively.
The technology is also a useful assessment tool. A doctor may detect a problem using BCI technology and prescribe a non-invasive treatment such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). With tDCS, a low level electromagnetic current is directed to a specific brain location to “reset” its neural functioning.
Until recently, BCI required advanced training to operate and interpret, limiting its use to neuroscientists and biomedical engineers. That has changed with the recent development of user-friendly technology and easy to understand graphic displays. It utilizes wearable biosensors, wireless data capture, and cloud-based processing of data for rapid analysis.
“What is particularly promising about the use of brain interface technology, ” said technology developer David Hagedorn, “is its efficacy not only in the treatment of mental illness but also in assessing and treating the physiological underpinnings of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, concussion, traumatic brain injury, ADHD, and even the normal cognitive decline associated with aging.”
Approximately a fifth of the U.S. population takes prescription medication for mental health symptoms. While these psychotropic drugs help many people feel better and function with more ease, there is always the specter of side effects lurking in every bottle of pills. The pharmaceutical industry may not welcome BCI as a treatment, but many consumers of mental health services will.
BCI technology is surely something to watch. Those in the neuroscience technology industry predict its use for brain training and cognitive assessment will show strong growth in the coming year. It could be that for some individuals BCI will replace the need for prescription medication or reduce the dose of medication needed.
Source: Health Freedoms
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