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Neurotherapy: Rehabbing the CFIDS
By Mark Giuliucci
Many people with CFIDS experience brain fog — the sensation of
being lost in a waking trance, hearing but not comprehending, talking but not
For some, a treatment called neurotherapy may help lift the
fog. It’s a form of biofeedback, something practitioners liken to “physical
therapy for the brain.”
“Neurotherapy is not a cure for CFIDS,” says Myra Preston,
PhD, who owns and operates Siber Imaging, a neurotherapy clinic in
N.C. “But for many people, it can be an
effective way to ‘reset’ your brain and improve cognitive function.”
Neurotherapy, also known as neurofeedback, has been around
since the 1950s, when it was developed as a treatment for people with seizure
disorders. Today it is used for conditions that include attention deficit
disorder, stroke, anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Preston has patented a specific neurotherapy protocol to
use for people who suffer from the various neurological problems that CFIDS
In biofeedback, patients receive real-time information about
body functions — “feedback” about their heart rate, muscle tension, body
temperature, etc. The patients are then trained to control these functions in
hopes of relieving ailments ranging from headaches to high blood pressure.
In neurotherapy, the goal is to change brain wave patterns.
The brain has four main states of alertness, each corresponding to a brain wave.
High-frequency beta waves are present during active, waking moments, while alpha
waves are associated with daydreaming or reflective states. Low-frequency theta
and delta waves are usually present during rest or sleep.
People with CFIDS (PWCs) often show markedly different
patterns than normal, Preston says.
Preston has discovered that people with CFIDS produce
predominantly slow-wave activity. While most people show beta (fast) wave
activity when performing cognitive tasks, CFIDS patients try to perform them
with theta and delta states instead.
Their intelligence remains intact, but the ability to access
it is unpredictable and unreliable. The brain reverses the order in which it is
supposed to perform; when the eyes are open, the brain slows down, and when they
are closed, the brain speeds up.
“It’s like trying to work when your brain says ‘sleep,’
Preston says. “It’s no wonder that people have so many
disabling symptoms and trouble concentrating.”
The brain wave patterns of PWCs resemble those of people with
closed head injuries and hepatic encephalophathy. Preston
says the predominance of slow-wave activity can be correlated with symptoms such
as sleep disturbance, short-term memory problems, low blood pressure, reduced
energy, cognitive difficulties, headaches, nausea, heart arrhythmias and
Preston documents the slow-wave
phenomenon using a brain-mapping technique called Quantitative
Electroencephalography (QEEG). This step is important for a couple of reasons.
First, it helps document a patient’s condition for diagnostic and insurance
(both health and disability) purposes. More importantly, the information is used
to design a treatment program.
During treatment sessions, the patient is fitted with
electrodes on the scalp and seated in front of the computer screen of a
neurofeedback unit. The screen shows a variety of displays, such as fish moving
through a maze or a puzzle being assembled. The patient focuses on the screen
and attempts to manipulate the images.
When the patient is successful, he or she is “rewarded” with
an audible tone and changes to the images on the screen. Over time, the reward
becomes more difficult to achieve, forcing the patient to use more and more of
the proper brain waves — a process called operant
The therapy is slow work. A typical session lasts 40–60
minutes — and it may take 60–80 sessions for optimal, long-lasting results.
Preston says many patients begin to notice improvements
after 20–40 sessions, although the patient response varies greatly.
Again, neurotherapy is not a cure for CFIDS.
Preston says it treats neurological symptoms, but does
not reverse the underlying causes of CFIDS, whatever they may be. “It’s simply a
tool, a way for people to improve their quality of life,” she says.
About 70 percent of the people who try neurotherapy improve to
some extent. Most in this successful group reach at least 60–70 percent of their
goals, including better concentration and increased short-term memory, improved
reading skills, fewer headaches, increased energy and reduced duration and
frequency of brain fog.
Of the 70 percent who succeed, Preston
says, the majority are able to go back to full- or part-time work.
Neurotherapy is not cheap, but the costs are often covered by
insurers. The initial brain-mapping is covered about 85 percent of the time,
Preston says. The cost of individual sessions is covered
in 60–70 percent of cases.
Preston’s CFIDS protocol for
neurofeedback is now available at a number of sites across the country. In
addition to the Charlotte office,
treatment is now available at affiliated centers in
Great Neck, N.Y.; Glen Ellyn,
Siber Imaging also leases or sells home units for people who
are unable to attend sessions elsewhere. After initial brain-mapping and
training sessions in Charlotte,
patients can administer the sessions themselves.
Readings are monitored by Siber
Imaging via e-mail or fax, and patients are coached on how to make adjustments
to the treatment program.
A new group approach has also evolved over the past year,
carried out by support groups in
California. People who live in the
same town can lease one machine, then share the unit. Siber Imaging travels to
the group’s home town and conducts brain-mapping, individual treatment
evaluations and instrument training.
For more information on these programs, readers can call
704-543-0427, or can visit the Siber Imaging Web site at
The CFIDS Chronicle features quarterly articles about
complementary and alternative therapies for people with CFIDS. The Chronicle
does not endorse any treatment or claim.