There are a number of companies today working on tools for reading and stimulating brain activity. Electroencephalography (EEG) is a technique for reading electrical activity resulting from fluctuations in mental states.
Those readings have been successfully used for decades to diagnose sleep disorders and other conditions in the brain. EEG is also commonly used for neurofeedback therapy, neuromarketing research, and in brain-computer interfaces for paralysed individuals.
Here are some of the application areas:
One of the ‘core’ applications of EEG for many decades has been researched. Without sales to labs doing EEG research, there wouldn’t be as many EEG manufacturers today, and EEG technology would be less advanced.
Many EEG systems are in university laboratories devoted to research and teaching for neuroscience, psychology, psychophysiology and related fields. EGI and Neuroscan are just a couple of companies that provide hardware to research labs.
Mind reading technologies like EEG are useful for measuring the various stages of sleeping and dreaming. Along with monitoring for problems in falling asleep and staying asleep, feedback can be used to improve sleep and even encourage lucid dream states.
- Sleep monitoring. Sleep clinics diagnose conditions like insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy with polysomnography. Polysomnography is a patient monitoring technique which uses EEG along with eye tracking, muscle activity, and heart rate to identify if and when sleep is disrupted.
- Sleep assistance. Some at-home wearable devices, such as the Dreem headband attempt to improve sleep habits by playing music or tones during different stages of sleep. The Somnee headband is one example of a wearable that provides low-power electrical stimulation for the same purpose.
- Lucid dreaming. Lucid dreams happen when you become aware that you’re dreaming while asleep. Although lucid dreaming is an uncommon occurrence for most people, it’s a skill that can be practised and even used therapeutically for managing nightmares caused by chronic stress disorders.
Some examples of sleep monitoring companies are Advanced Brain Monitoring, Sleepmed, and Bionen Medical Devices. There are also a few developing sleep assistance devices: Dreem, NYX, and StimScience. Meanwhile, iBand+ is a company working on a lucid dreaming wearable.
Neurofeedback is a type of therapy which uses brain signals and feedback stimulation to reduce symptoms caused by neurological disorders and encourage healthy mental states. Feedback can include indirect audio cues, like those used by the Sens.ai headset, or visual feedback like the FocusCalm score. Some neurofeedback companies using indirect stimulation include Mindfield Biosystems, ScienceBeam, Neurosoft, Elmiko, MindMaze, Excellent Brain
Neurofeedback therapy can also involve direct electrical or magnetic stimulation of the brain. A good example is the IASIS neurofeedback device which uses microcurrent stimulation for relaxation training. Other companies using direct stimulation techniques include Mended Minds, NeuroField, Foc.us, Ochs Labs, Ybrain, Neuroelectrics
Clinical diagnosis and monitoring
Finding and tracking the progression of neurological conditions are among the primary uses for EEG today. The EEG is used to evaluate several types of brain disorders.
- Epilepsy. Epilepsy treatments benefit from locating the source and frequency of epileptic seizures.
- Stroke and traumatic brain injury. Abnormalities in signals across the scalp can assist in the diagnosis of mild or severe brain injuries caused by trauma, like a stroke or car accident.
- Dementia. The development of dementia, a disorder characterised by impairments in memory and mental function, can be predicted using EEG biomarkers and potentially treated.
- Intraoperative neuromonitoring. Similar to sleep studies, EEG plays an important role in patient monitoring during surgical procedures. Measuring anaesthesia, detecting seizures, and uncovering damage to the cortex caused during such procedures can greatly reduce the risk of neurological injury. Intraoperative neuromonitoring (IONM) is the name for this process of monitoring the nervous system during an operation.
- Coma. Recordings of brain activity are vital for diagnosing locked-in syndrome and monitoring developments in comatose patients. EEG also aids in communication with locked-in individuals.
- Depression. Resting-state recordings of individuals with depression can inform decisions on therapy options. Here are some diagnosis and long-term monitoring companies: AddBrain, Ives EEG Solutions, Holberg EEG, Cognision. And some use EEG for intraoperative neuromonitoring: IntraNerve, Inomed, and Bionen Medical Devices.
Brain-computer interfaces (BCI)
Compared to invasive techniques, brain waves recorded from the scalp are a limited source of information about underlying neural mechanisms. This information, however, is sufficient to enable basic control of machines and software through what is known as a brain-computer interface (BCI).
- Assistive technologies. Typing applications are useful for individuals whose communication abilities are limited by muscular deficits. Control over prosthetics can also benefit from EEG-based brain-computer interfaces. These neurotech companies are working on assistive technologies for communication: NeuroChat, NURO, Cognixion
- General computer control. The affordability of consumer headsets has helped to encourage the development of all sorts of brain-computer interface projects and software. These are some examples of general BCI companies: OpenBCI, Petal, EMOTIV, Neurable
- Gaming. Video games seem to represent a major driving force in the commercialisation of EEG devices for non-clinical use. NextMind and Cortex Machina are a couple of companies integrating brain-computer interfaces with video games. The Unicorn Brain Interface and intendiX system from g.tec are a couple of BCI systems designed for all of these use cases. In the grand scheme of EEG sales, BCI has played a small role until recently.
Landon Burress is a software developer, neurotech enthusiast, and the creator of BCIWiki. You can connect with him on Twitter @bciwiki.
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