It is estimated that about 2 Billion people worldwide suffer from a brain-related disorder, causing an enormous economic and social burden that continues to grow as the population ages. Brain disorders and injuries include psychiatric disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders; neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, epilepsy, stroke and traumatic brain injuries; and pain related disorders such as migraine, and chronic and neuropathic pain.
Findings from brain-imaging studies have increased knowledge of neural networks and the part they play in brain disorders. Structural and functional network abnormalities are thought to underlie many brain disorders.
Currently available functional brain imaging and evaluation tools and technologies provide valuable insights about brain functionality. However, due to the brain’s complexity, such tools and technologies are often insufficient to lead to conclusive and objective diagnostic and treatment decisions. Some are too expensive to serve as routine tests and, therefore, their use is quite limited in practical medicine.
Available tools and technologies include the following:
- Neuropsychological tests (NP tests), which include traditional questionnaires/ pencil and paper test, computerized NP tests and Continuous Performance Tests. NP tests are behavioral or performance tests that provide an assessment of cognitive functioning. Although NP tests can assist clinicians in their decision making to some degree, they are not a direct and sensitive measure of brain function.
- Technologies analyzing metabolic activity or blood flow, such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) or PET (positron emission tomography). Metabolic-based technologies do not directly measure neural activity, their temporal resolution is low and they are not suitable as a bed-side solution for daily clinical practice.
- Technologies measuring electro physiological activity such as EEG (electroencephalography) and MEG (magnetic encephalography) and analysis technologies such as QEEG and standard ERP. These technologies provide high temporal resolution information relating to direct neural activity. However, their clinical utility is still limited.
The human brain’s complex neural network activation that underlies brain function; dysfunction presents a major challenge to all currently available tools and technologies. However, the tools listed all have some ability to enlighten a physician with regard to a patient’s general neurocognitive functionality, as does BNA. Physicians should use their best judgement on which tools to employ, in combination, to assist with their goal of helping each patient.