WADENA, Minn. — “That woman is me,” Lenora Zino said about her experiences of abuse before coming to the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Today, Zino has a changed life, as she says, thanks to neurofeedback therapy with BrainCore technology.

She works at the Women’s Center with a love for helping women and children through the trauma they are experiencing. But she would find herself questioning if she had done enough. The “major toll” these awful situations had on her mental health, too, led to nightmares that kept her from sleeping nights at a time.

In August 2020, Zino started BrainCore neurofeedback sessions and she woke up to changes that October.

“I was noticing I was not just sleeping but sleeping through the night and had not had a night terror since,” Zino said. “After several months, my second brain map showed 57% increase, and I definitely noticed it.

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How does neurofeedback work?

Neurofeedback therapy is a way to help your brain develop healthy patterns. It happens through neuroplasticity, which is your brain creating new pathways based on the thoughts, actions and emotions you have. In each session, people are adjusting their brain pathways, not curing a certain disorder, slowly over time, according to the BrainCore website.

“The brain learns by forming connections between nerve cells and utilizing important pathways that connect different locations in the brain,” the BrainCore website explains. “The more frequently you utilize these pathways the better the brain becomes at performing the associated task.”

The BrainCore technology, like the one used at Dr. Big Brain in Perham, Minnesota, and BrainCore of Northern Minnesota in Brainerd, starts with patients understanding their brain’s wave activity. There is a cap with sensors placed on your head along with a few sensors on your ear that connects to a computer. Wait, a sensor to my brain? The sensors don’t input anything into your brain, rather they’re noting the activity already happening inside.

Neurofeedback, or EEG, includes placing sensors on people's head and ears. 
Contributed / Sourcewell / Mitchell McCallson, 2021
Neurofeedback, or EEG, includes placing sensors on people's head and ears. Contributed / Sourcewell / Mitchell McCallson, 2021

The computer then creates a brain map that shows areas in your brain that might be considered imbalanced with increased or limited activity. All the while, you are sitting for periods of time with your eyes open and closed — and it’s exercise for the brain. You’ll also be seeing these brain waves correlated through a game, movie or sound that shifts as new pathways are developed.

If you’re worried this sounds a little “hokey,” researchers at the University of California Los Angeles, starting in the 1950s and '60s, showed people could train their brain waves by giving small rewards like the sound of a bell.

Since the 1970s, the therapy has shown behavior and academic improvements for people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Neurofeedback is used by mental health professionals, chiropractors, clinical social workers and nurses. Neurofeedback is not widely used as a treatment. The equipment used is certified with the Food and Drug Administration.

Heather Kelm, executive director at Port Group Homes in Brainerd, shared her experience in October at Staples, Minnesota-based Sourcewell's yearly funding event, where organizations share their presentations for community impact funding.

Kelm participated in neurofeedback sessions for three weeks. The sessions usually run for around a year.

“It’s non-invasive so no one needs to go and revisit the past trauma that they’ve experienced while they’re attempting to retrain their brain and make those connections a little faster,” Kelm said. “Neurofeedback is a lifelong change.”

Van Eeckhout highlights sections of Zino's brain based on the different wave activity going on.
Contributed / Sourcewell / Mitchell McCallson, 2021
Van Eeckhout highlights sections of Zino's brain based on the different wave activity going on. Contributed / Sourcewell / Mitchell McCallson, 2021

The brain controls attention, emotion and equilibrium. The brain’s main waves are:

  • Delta: The slowest processing speed happens when you are sleeping or relaxed.

  • Theta: These waves are also slow processing ones, which produce in deep relaxation.

  • Alpha: When you are idle and your brain is healthy, your brain is producing Alpha waves more on the right than the left side.

  • Beta: Focus, concentration and alert brain work brings fast processing with more Beta waves on the left than the right side.

Neurofeedback therapy is not a one-stop shop to fix any pain, the focus is improvement to your brain functions. Neurofeedback is designed to help people with ADHD, anxiety, autism, depression, insomnia, learning disorders, memory loss, migraines, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders.

At Port Group Home, which supports at-risk youth, Kelm and Zino hope children can move toward healing with neurofeedback. The new sessions, with a $100,000 from Sourcewell’s Community Impact Funding program, will be offered in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Todd and Wadena counties for children and staff members.

“What I noticed during that was memory issues were almost completely resolved …. reading comprehension improved, sleeping improved and those are just a few of the small changes that I’ve noticed so far,” Kelm said after three weeks of neurofeedback therapy sessions, “and I can’t wait to experience the rest of the sessions and see where I go even another month.”