What if depression patients could heal themselves? A new study finds that may be possible, through a process known as neurofeedback, in which patients concentrate on modifying their own brainwave patterns. A small study from Korea found the technique effective in treating patients with Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD), one of the most difficult forms to treat.
It’s thought to be the first time that neurofeedback has been shown to improve symptoms and overall recovery when used with antidepressant drugs.
More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression and a third of them don’t respond to treatment with drugs, putting them in the Treatment-Resistant Depression category. There are currently limited options for such patients but the small Korean study, which involved only 24 patients, may offer hope for TRD sufferers.
In the study, half the TRD patients were treated with neurofeedback and antidepressants while the other half were treated only with antidepressants. The 12 chosen for neurofeedback were trained to vary their brainwaves in response to audio and visual signals.
The researchers found that in the neurofeedback group, 8 of the 12 patients responded to treatment, and 5 of those responded well enough to be classified as being in remission. Most of these patients are now under long-term observation to see if remission has continued. In contrast the control group did not show significant improvement from baseline after 12 weeks.
“Neurofeedback has been trialed with psychological conditions in the past, but as far as we know this is the first time that anyone has succeeded in achieving remission and overall recovery (functional recovery) with treatment-resistant depression. This is particularly important, because this is an otherwise untreatable group of patients,” said the project leader, Professor Eun-Jin Cheon of Yeungnam University Hospital, South Korea.
“In our study we included patients with major depressive disorder, who still had residual symptoms and functional impairment despite receiving antidepressant treatment. Our results suggested that neurofeedback might be an effective complementary treatment to make patients feel well again and successfully engage with life. The most promising thing about neurofeedback is it doesn’t cause even mild side effects. It could also improve self-efficacy by participating active, voluntary treatment,” he said.
Researchers emphasized the study was small and the results should be treated as preliminary, pending further studies.