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Brain training to control seizures

An online brain training technique that increases alertness but calms the brain is showing promising results in helping people with epilepsy to control their seizures.

Research led by Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) is trialling an alternative treatment to epilepsy drugs that teaches people with the condition to control 'hidden bodily signals'.

The technique is based on biofeedback, a behavioural therapy more commonly used to promote relaxation. However for people with epilepsy, the technique is being used to increase brain alertness.

Stress and epilepsy

Stress is a common trigger for seizures and can increase their frequency. Dr Yoko Nagai (right, above) Wellcome Trust research fellow at BSMS, expected to find that relaxation through biofeedback would help to reduce seizure activity. However she found the opposite to be true.

'We found that training people to increase their level of alertness actually helped to calm their brain and reduce the number of seizures they were having,' she said.

Sixty per cent of people who used the technique three times a week over a four-week period saw a reduction in seizure incidence of more than 50 per cent.

Dr Nagai has now established a treatment protocol for people whose seizures do not respond to medication. She has developed an animated computer programme that responds to a person's level of alertness.

'I have developed a brain training technique that uses biofeedback to gain control over electrodermal activity (EDA).' she said.

Seizure reduction

Most people are unaware of EDA although it is often used in lie detectors to detect neural activation through stress, measuring this activity through sweating response.

Sixty per cent of people who used the technique three times a week over a four-week period saw a reduction in seizure incidence of more than 50 per cent.

The technique is known as Autonomic Cognitive Rehabituation Training, and now Dr Nagai wants to make it available to anyone, anywhere, at any time, through a computer animated programme. By following a series of interactive online training sessions, people will be able to develop skills which Dr Nagai says have the potential to help them control their seizures without side effects.

Find out more

You can read more at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (opens in a new window).