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How does Biofeedback help Parkinson's Disease?


Biofeedback is a mind-body technique involving visual or auditory feedback to gain control over involuntary bodily functions. This may include gaining voluntary control over heart rate, muscle tension, blood flow, pain perception, and blood pressure.


This process involves being connected to a device with sensors that provide feedback about specific aspects of your body.



People with Parkinson's benefit greatly from biofeedback in areas such as:


Types of Biofeedback for Parkinson's Disease


Breathing: Respiratory biofeedback involves wearing sensor bands around the chest and abdomen to monitor breathing rates and patterns. With training, people can learn to have greater control over their breathing rates, which can help in various situations.


Heart rate: This type is known as heart rate variability biofeedback, and there is some evidence that it might be helpful for several different disorders, including asthma and depression.  Patients using this type of biofeedback wear a device connected to sensors in either the ears or fingers or sensors placed on the wrists, chest, or torso. These devices measure heart rate as well as heart rate variability.



Galvanic skin response: This biofeedback measures the amount of sweat on the skin's surface. Galvanic skin response, also known as skin conductance, is a valuable marker for detecting emotional arousal levels. Aside from the apparent thermoregulatory function of sweat, emotional stimulation can also easily trigger sweating. The more strongly people are aroused, the stronger their skin conductance will be.


Blood pressure: This biofeedback involves wearing a device that measures blood pressure. These devices provide information about the patient's blood pressure and often guide the user through relaxation techniques that may rely on visual cues, breathing exercises, or music.



Skin temperature: In this form of biofeedback, patients wear sensors that detect blood flow to the skin. Because people often experience a drop in body temperature during times of stress, such devices can help people better detect when they are starting to feel distressed. A low reading on one of these monitors can indicate a need to utilize some stress management techniques.


Brain waves: This type of biofeedback, often referred to as Neurofeedback, involves utilizing electroencephalography (EEG) to measure real-time brain wave activity non-invasively. Brainwaves are tiny pulses of electrical activity at the root of all our brain’s communication. This electrical activity, which can be measured with EEG sensors, tells us important things regarding how we feel, think, stress levels, underlying moods, and overall brain function.  Exercising your brain with Neurofeedback is similar to exercising your body; this type of circuit training can target brain networks that contribute to Parkinson's symptoms and help reset the brain to healthier patterns.



Muscle tension: In this type of biofeedback, sensors are placed at various points on the body and connected to an electromyography (EMG) device. This device detects changes in muscle tension over time by monitoring electrical activity that results in muscle contractions. This works well with many forms of Dystonia and neck stiffness, and can be even used for toe or foot dystonia which commonly occurs with people with Parkinson's during wearing off of medication.


How Does Biofeedback Work?

So how exactly does biofeedback work? By learning how to recognize the physical signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety, such as increased heart rate, body temperature, and muscle tension, people can learn how to relax. Scientists believe that it is often the stress response, the body's tendency to go into a state of "fight-or-flight" to deal with potential threats that often exacerbate certain conditions. By learning how to control physiological responses to stress, biofeedback patients can learn how to relax their minds and bodies and better cope with stress symptoms.


What is a typical biofeedback session like?

Electrical sensors will be connected to specific areas of your body, depending upon the type of response being measured. These sensors will be connected to a measurement device to provide feedback on your physical responses. During your session, your therapist will guide you through different mental exercises involving visualization, meditation, breathing, or relaxation techniques. As you perform these activities, you will receive information on your physical response from the measurement device.


How Long Does Biofeedback Take?

A biofeedback session will often last between 30 and 60 minutes. The duration of treatment and the number of sessions required depends on many factors, including how well you respond to the training, the condition you are focusing on, and your treatment goals. A typical treatment course often includes 4 to 6 sessions, although 8 to 10 sessions are common.


How Effective Is Biofeedback?

Biofeedback is often considered a type of training rather than a treatment. With training and practice, biofeedback can help people develop new skills that may help them cope better or perform.  To be effective, biofeedback requires that patients play an active role in their treatment. Success also usually requires that patients regularly practice between training sessions.


Reasons to Use Biofeedback


It Can Be an Alternative or Addition to Other Treatments

Biofeedback may appeal when other treatments have not been effective or people cannot take certain medications. Because biofeedback is non-invasive, patients may prefer it when other treatments may be more invasive or disrupting.


Biofeedback training can also be used as one part of a treatment approach. People often choose to utilize biofeedback to augment other treatments.


You Want to Manage Your Stress Better

Biofeedback also teaches people how to control their responses in stressful situations, helping people feel more in control. This can help people better manage the stress they may face in their daily lives, cope with feelings of anxiety, or handle the stress resulting from another health condition.


Other Mental Health Benefits of Biofeedback

In addition to helping people better manage stress and other conditions, biofeedback can also have additional mental health benefits. The training process can help people learn new techniques for managing their anxiety and emotional responses. Such training can also help people take charge of their health, which may help people feel more empowered and in control.


Sources

  1. The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Inc. About Biofeedback. 2020.

  2. Lehrer PM, Gevirtz R. Heart rate variability biofeedback: How and why does it work? Front Psychol. 2014;5:756. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00756

  3. Mahtani KR, Nunan D, Heneghan CJ. Device-guided breathing exercises in the control of human blood pressure: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Hypertens. 2012;30(5):852-860. DOI:10.1097/HJH.0b013e3283520077

  4. Frank DL, Khorshid L, Kiffer JF, Moravec CS, McKee MG. Biofeedback in medicine: who, when, why, and howMent Health Fam Med. 2010;7(2):85-91.

  5. Schoenberg PL, David AS. Biofeedback for Psychiatric Disorders: A Systematic Review. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2014;39(2):109-135. DOI:10.1007/s10484-014-9246-9

  6. Giggins OM, Persson UM, Caulfield B. Biofeedback in rehabilitation. J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2013;10:60. DOI:10.1186/1743-0003-10-60


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