Dr. Silverman Featured in The Arizona Republic on Sports Psychology
Psychologist: Neurofeedback can boost 'mental fitness' in athletes
Jan. 29, 2010 12:44 PM
The Arizona Republic
Scientists have long touted the benefits of neurofeedback on children with attention deficit disorder and cognitive problems.
But the brain therapy, first introduced in the 1960s, could give athletes an upper edge in the sports world.
Scottsdale psychologist Sanford Silverman says neurofeedback can boost the brain's "mental fitness," leading to better focus and the ability to block out distractions. Silverman's Center for Peak Performance at 92nd Street and Shea Boulevard uses several techniques, including "brain mapping" and video games, to get players in the zone.
"When we perform well, our minds are not scattered,"said Silverman, who also runs the Scottsdale Center for Attention Deficit and Learning Disorders. "When you're performing in the moment for sports, you're able to use your skills much better."
The technique isn't full-proof, and some critics argue there is not enough research to prove its effectiveness.
Struggling with ADD symptoms, former Arizona Diamondbacks player Brian Barden decided to try it. A player with the Florida Marlins organization, Barden said his goal is to boost his awareness levels before spring training.
"I lost an edge where I was feeling like I lost focus," said Barden, who was drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2002.
After a session with Silverman, Barden said he felt calmer and more organized.Another patient, Nathan Sherman,expressed similar results after 10 sessions.
Sherman, a senior and starting catcher for Scottsdale's Chaparral High School baseball team, was coping with a lack of focus behind home plate.
"I was having problems focusing on thinking less, and what I need to do," said Sherman, 17, who has since been recruited by the University of Arizona baseball program.
"Now I realize I can control my game. I'm more relaxed and concentrated," Sherman said.
Neurofeedback involves several steps, usually starting with a "brain map."Patients wear helmets that measure the electrical activity in their brains, and their results are compared to people of a similar age and gender to diagnose mental disorders.
"In patients with ADD and ADHD, learning disabilities and other disorders, we typically see less activity in certain areas of the brain," Silverman said.
Treatment is fun for most patients, who play computer and video games that offer real-time feedback which reveals whether their brain waves are too slow or too fast. The goal is to obtain a normal, focused state of consciousness.
A video game called "Space Race" encourages people to focus less on the daydreaming and over-active parts of the brain. Another game, S.M.A.R.T, was developed by NASA to improve pilots' concentration, Silverman said.
"It gives you better motor control," Silverman said. "You can make better decisions."
Silverman's interactive metronome produces beats that patients mimic with clapping, and hand and foot sensors measure their ability to respond quickly and accurately.
Most people improve their response time over several sessions. For athletes, that timing is crucial.
"You learn to be extra focused," Silverman said. "Your whole nervous system is reacting."
Social worker Bob Gurnee, who founded the Scottsdale Neurofeedback Institute 15 years ago, described patients whose lives have changed dramatically.
A man who was depressed for years and on dozens of medications was cured after 30 treatments, Gurnee said.
"We see that all the time," Gurnee said. "It's such a blessing. Some of the people have been through years and years of therapy."
Gurnee said neurofeedback improves performance in all sports. Athletes who have had concussions can also benefit from the increased brain activity, he said.
"The Italian soccer team did brain mapping based on neurofeedback, then they won the World Cup," Gurnee said. "It's amazing what it can do."
Many people take less medication during treatment or wean themselves off completely.
The price for a brain map is $495. Average sessions cost between $60 and $75, and most patients need about 30 sessions, Gurnee said.
The physical effects can also be measured. Neurofeedback increases blood flow to the frontal lobe, or "thinking" part of the brain.
In patients with ADD, this blood flow is often reduced, he said.
Another side effect for some patients is a higher IQ.
"Not only do you treat the (problem) and remediate it, but IQ goes up an average of 10 to 20 points," Gurnee said. "It's remarkably effective." "