The way an individual’s brain is “firing” can tell us a lot about their cognitive health and many behavior patterns. While psychology and psychiatry may provide an evaluation from the outside in, advanced technology now allows for a more inside-out approach. Utilizing quantitative electroencephalogram (qEEG), brain mapping allows for a deep dive into the complexities of the brain and lets us gain valuable insights into its functioning.
Brain mapping, or qEEG, provides insight into the connectivity and communication within the brain.
Brain mapping is completely painless and noninvasive.
qEEG is a powerful tool to guide neurofeedback training to help patients with ADD, ADHD, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
Brain mapping is not a diagnostic tool on its own, but may be a powerful addition to a holistic approach to designing a treatment plan for various neurological conditions.
By analyzing the electrical activity produced by the brain, known as brain waves, brain mapping provides clinicians with a noninvasive window into communication within the brain. While functional MRI and CAT scans provide insight into the structure of the brain, qEEG reveals connectivity and communication along with cerebral strengths and weaknesses within the brain.
What is brain mapping?
Brain mapping, also known as qEEG, is a cutting-edge tool used to evaluate individuals with various neurological conditions such as attention-deficit (ADD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, learning disorders, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Brain mapping can give us insights into why prescriptions or therapies aren't effective in a treatment plan. It also allows us to make more specific recommendations so you spend less time troubleshooting."Dr. Jennifer L. Smith, naturopathic medical doctor and owner of SilverTree Wellness Center
Over the past 20 years, brain mapping has grown into a widely adopted modality in the clinical setting to help to develop an objective understanding of how our brain is “wired,” so then we can use that to facilitate positive behavioral change.
The power of brain waves
Brain waves are the oscillatory and rhythmic patterns created by the interaction of brain cells. They represent the electrical power that brain cells generate as they communicate with each other. Brain mapping involves placing a cap on the individual's head with 19 sensors that make contact with the surface of the skull to record brain wave activity over different areas.
This process is entirely noninvasive and painless, similar to placing a thermometer to measure temperature. The sensors pick up the electrical signals from the brain and transmit them to a computer for analysis.
Brain waves can be categorized into different frequency bands, each associated with specific psychological processes and states. The most common brain wave frequencies analyzed in brain mapping are delta, theta, alpha, and beta.
Delta waves are slow and often observed during deep sleep or unconscious states. Theta waves are associated with relaxation, deep meditation, and access to the subconscious. Alpha waves are present when we are in a state of calmness, creativity, and focus. Beta waves are associated with concentration, alertness, and problem-solving. Each of these brain wave frequencies plays a crucial role in our cognitive and emotional functioning.
The role of qEEG in brain mapping
Quantitative electroencephalogram provides a comprehensive picture of the brain's symphony of electrical activity. The 19 sensors capture the brain waves' amplitude, ratios, coherence, and phase, providing valuable information about the functional organization or disorganization of brain activity.
By analyzing these components, clinicians can identify the underlying mechanisms of various neurological disorders. This information serves a great role in helping to diagnose and treat a variety of neurological problems.
Dr. Smith said they do brain maps for all ages. “Some are kids struggling with attention issues and mood swings in high school while others are high-performing CEOs who want to up their game,” she said, noting that “it can be used therapeutically along with other treatments or as a stand-alone to enhance performance.”
Analyzing brain wave data
The raw brain wave data collected during a brain mapping session is analyzed using a specialized software. The analysis generates statistical brain maps that depict the surface of the skull with specific colors highlighting different areas of the brain and their corresponding functions.
The data are then processed through an FDA-approved normative database for comparison to "normal" results. This analysis allows clinicians to pinpoint any areas of the brain that deviate from the norm and identify the source of symptoms or dysregulation in the brain.
However, neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Hill pointed out that brain mapping is not a diagnostically valid tool in a discreet way. “It’s a population level tool,” he said, adding that you can often see how people are different from average but you can’t necessarily understand what it means for one person discreetly and by only looking at their brain map results. It is key to correlate those results with personal medical history and interpretation on an individual level.
By understanding the unique brain wave patterns of an individual in relation to their life events, clinicians can develop personalized protocols, such as neurofeedback treatment, to address the underlying causes of symptoms and promote positive behavioral change.
Applications of brain mapping
Conditions such as attention deficit disorders, memory disorders, executive function disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and learning disabilities can be better understood through brain mapping. By identifying the areas of the brain affected by these disorders, clinicians can develop targeted treatment plans to address the underlying neurological issues.
Dr. Hill explained that researchers in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s were looking for things you can find in an EEG, so you can find out about the person without asking them anything. They were looking for “discriminants that are almost valid, almost meaningful to make a valid diagnosis.”
The only marker that had the highest discriminant, he said, was ADHD markers, with the literature in the late 1980s showing the validity of measuring theta-beta ratio in blind studies. However, as more brain maps were conducted and these databases grew, that plausibility decreased. As Dr. Hill explained, a very similar theta-beta ratio is present with sleep deprivation too. Hence, it’s key for any practitioner and therapist who uses qEEG to guide treatment to holistically assess their client as opposed to blindly following qEEG data only.
Guiding neurofeedback treatment
One of the most significant applications of brain mapping is in guiding neurofeedback treatment. Neurofeedback is a form of therapy that utilizes real-time feedback of brain wave activity to train specific areas of the brain and promote self-regulation.
By analyzing the brain map, clinicians can identify the frequency bands and brain regions that are misfiring, overactive, or weak and thus require training. This information is then used to create personalized neurofeedback protocols, which can include visual or auditory feedback in the form of brain games, movies, or other brain activities. Neurofeedback, guided by brain mapping, offers a noninvasive, voluntary, and drug-free approach to improving brain health and enhancing overall well-being.
"Remapping gives people a sense of trusting stuff they couldn’t trust before like their seizures that have remained calm, or their ADHD or PTSD that subsided"Dr. Hill
Dr. Smith highlighted that “brain maps are not perfect but very easy to obtain in a clinical setting.” She said they do one at the beginning of treatment, and depending on the programs used, a follow-up brain map at the four to six or eight months mark. She did note to keep in mind that the “brain is dynamic and a fMRI is more accurate, however with the state of medicine as it is that isn't the easiest for most people to obtain.”
Should you have your brain mapped?
Brain mapping, with its ability to delve into the intricate workings of the brain, holds great promise for understanding neurological disorders and facilitating positive behavioral change.
The accessibility of brain mapping has become significantly more affordable in the past few years. While functional MRIs could cost tens of thousands of dollars, a qEEG brain map runs anywhere from a few hundred dollars and up.
qEEG brain mapping may not only help individuals better understand their own cognitive health, but it’s a valuable tool for clinicians to gain insights into their patient’s brain functioning and help guide personalized treatment plans. As technology continues to advance, brain mapping will undoubtedly play a crucial role in unraveling the mysteries of the mind and improving brain health for individuals worldwide.
Remember, if you want to better understand your own brain and explore the potential benefits of brain mapping, consult with a qualified healthcare professional experienced in this area.
- Frontiers in Psychiatry. EEG for Diagnosis of Adult ADHD: A Systematic Review With Narrative Analysis.
- Brain and Behavior. Integration of an EEG biomarker with a clinician's ADHD evaluation.
- Neurology Clinical Practice. Quantitative EEG in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
- Current Psychiatry Reports. Neurofeedback as a Treatment Intervention in ADHD: Current Evidence and Practice.