A surprise result
As it’s commonly known that mental stress can increase seizures, Dr Nagai expected that teaching patients to use relaxation techniques would reduce their susceptibility to seizures. However, she was surprised to learn through her research that, in fact, the opposite was true – and that training patients to increase their levels of alertness actually helped them to calm their brain and reduce the incidence of seizures.
Dr Nagai then established a treatment protocol for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy, using EDA biofeedback. As the essence of biofeedback training involves increasing control over the body’s system, she worked on developing an animated computer programme for epilepsy that responds to a person’s level of alertness.
Patients in the initial clinical trial were trained in biofeedback three times a week over a four-week period. They were shown how to increase their alertness, or ‘sympathetic arousal’, by learning to move the computer-generated animation towards a desired goal.
Not only did 60% of patients who learned the technique demonstrate a reduction in seizures of 50% or more, but two who went on to keep a record for three years after their ‘training’ continued to have a greatly reduced number of seizures.
Following these earlier studies, Dr Nagai is now conducting a wider clinical trial, funded by the Wellcome Trust Fellowship, in collaboration with Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and University College London Hospitals.