Brain Mapping: How Brain Imaging Can Help You Change Your Brain and Change Your LifeMay 07, 2021 03:22PM ● By KLAUDIA BALOGH
It all starts with donning a red stretchy swim cap-like head covering that has about a dozen white patches on the inside with blue, white, red and brown thin electrodes connected to each, plus a hole in the middle. A staff member then fills up a syringe with a transparent gel and squeezes it through each hole. Then you sit back and close your eyes. After five minutes, you’re asked to open your eyes for another five minutes and stare at a point on the wall in front of you.
All the while, a computer screen in the back is spewing wiggly line after wiggly line, which at first glance looks a lot like an electrocardiogram screen at the hospital. Instead of measuring the heart, however, those lines are a reflection of brain activity. It's an electroencephalogram (EEG), also called brain mapping.
EEG measures the electrical activity in the brain in the form of waves. Based on which brain waves show normal, too much or too little activity in certain parts of the brain, neuroscientists and clinicians can evaluate what the individual may be experiencing in life, such as anxiety, addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), epilepsy and even impulsivity. This quantitative EEG (qEEG) can help clinicians measure the efficacy of a treatment.
Neurotherapist and founder of the Peak Brain Institute, Dr. Andrew Hill uses qEEG with his clients, but says it is not a valid diagnostic tool in a discrete way. “It’s a population-level tool,” Dr. Hill tells TOTI Media. “You can see how people are different from average, and there are many discriminants that allow for valid hypotheses and guesses.”
A brain map shows four main brain waves: delta, theta, alpha and beta, and sometimes high-beta, each associated with a physiological state. Delta waves (3-5 Hertz) are slow and restorative, most active during deep sleep. Theta (5-8 Hz) is a super-conscious active learning state; alpha (8-12 Hz) is a resting and relaxing state; beta (12-22 Hz) is an alert and engaged mind, and high-Beta (22-38 Hz) takes it a step further into more complex thinking, anxiety and problem solving.
While these brain waves are present in all of us, they may show up at different intensities based on an individual’s mental health and brain anatomy. No two people have the same brain since is a highly complex organ; however, too much or too little activity of certain brain waves at specific areas of the brain can be indicative of health concerns.
When qEEG is used in a clinical setting, an individual’s brain map is processed through a national “normative database” of tens of thousands of brain maps, to be compared to a referenced average population of the same age and gender. This allows clinicians to identify abnormal areas that may require specific attention.
Brain imaging has evolved significantly in the past few decades as a tool used in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral psychology. At the early stages, but still used today, the majority of functional brain imaging was done by measuring blood flow in the brain with PET (positron emission tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and SPECT (single-photon emission computerized tomography) scans because blood flow changes locally in relation to changes in cellular activity.
SPECT was first presented to psychiatrists in the early 1990s to be better able to help their patients and provide objective data if their protocols worked. It was a big step for psychiatrists. In a TED talk, psychiatrist and brain health expert Dr. Daniel Amen said that “without imaging, psychiatrists would only make diagnoses by talking to people and looking for symptom clusters.” In fact, psychiatrists were the only medical specialists that never looked at the organ they treated.
“Before imaging, I always thought I was throwing darts in the dark at my patients,” Dr. Amen said in his presentation, noting that in more than two decades he and his colleagues have built the world’s largest database of brain SPECT scans (more than 83,000) related to behavior from patients in nearly 100 countries.
While PET, MRI and SPECT scans all use radioactive tracing materials, qEEG is completely noninvasive and requires no exposure to radiation.
Dr. Hill says that the power of brain mapping lies in seeing how various physiologically based coaching interventions, such as neurofeedback—an involuntary, non-conscious operant conditioning of the brain through implicit learning—impact the brain and its ability to change.
He has worked with a wide range of clients, from A-list celebrities, athletes and high-performing executives who would want to optimize their brain activity, to people with depression, addiction, epilepsy, PTSD and autism. Without exception, he has seen profound results.
For example, the number of seizures epileptic patients experience could drop significantly with neurofeedback. “It’s worked on animals, worked on people who were nonverbal, even with people in a coma,” Dr. Hill says, adding he has never seen less than a 50 percent reduction in seizures.
The science and application of brain mapping is still in its early years, but it’s already showing how the mental and psychological issues many people carry daily can be resolved by pinpointing the imbalance of activity in the brain and practicing neurofeedback to change it. With today’s technology, Dr. Hill says, you can take control of your brain. “The question is not if, but how.”
Klaudia Balogh is a health and wellness writer for TOTI Media.