Neurofeedback may offer a viable treatment for patients with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD), according to a pilot study presented this month at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology conference in Paris.
“Our results suggested that neurofeedback might be an effective complementary treatment to make patients feel well again and successfully engage with life,” said researcher Eun-Jin Cheon, MD, PhD, a professor at Yeungnam University Hospital, South Korea. “The most promising thing about neurofeedback is it doesn't cause even mild side effects.”
Previous research has shown different brainwaves are associated with different moods and brain states. For this study, 12 patients with treatment-resistant MDD concentrated on changing the levels of particular types of brainwaves as they were displayed on a computer screen during once- or twice-weekly sessions over 12 weeks.
During each hour-long session, patients received beta/sensorimotor rhythm training for half the session and alpha/theta training during the other half. Patients in the neurofeedback group continued taking their antidepressants, as did another 12 patients in a medication-only control group.
Over the 12 weeks of the study, 8 of the 12 patients who engaged in neurofeedback improved on various depression scales that measured both symptoms and functional impairment. Five patients improved enough to be considered in remission. In contrast, patients in the control group did not show significant improvement by the study’s end.
Researchers are continuing to observe the patients whose depression remitted to see how long the improvement lasts.
“We need to emphasize that this is a small study — if you like, it's still at the level of clinical science rather than clinical treatment, so we are a long way from this finding its way into the clinic,” Dr. Cheon said. “But the results surprised us. It merits further investigation.”
Article originally written at PsychCongress.