Brainwave entrainment with binaural beat spacing offers sympathetic modulation exhibited by temporary settling of tremor and anxiety in clinical studies of patients with Parkinson’s disease. EEG and EKG data have shown a reduction of neural noise during exposure to various levels of noninvasive binaural beat transmission. This article explores this technology and new devices that are in development to improve the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients.

Binaural Beat Studies

Bone conduction headset. (Credit: AdobeStock)

A few tests have shown that neural response activities are triggered by applying binaural beat music effects from two separate tones of an audio program with identical beats being played at minutely separate starting times. When one ear detects the first tone, the other ear hears the fractionally delayed program. A human brain attempts to correct the difference between the two. The brain embarks on solving this problem of dissimilar beat patterns and tries to dampen or accelerate one audio beat frequency to match the other. For example, a 270-cycle-per-second tone in one side and a 280-cycle-per-second tone in the other creates a 10-cycle-per-second tone available in the brain.

Additional brainwaves called frequency-following-response signals are developed at the 10-cycle-per-second tone. Neuroscientists have studied this entraining in the brain for years and have used similar information to help clients understand human speech. (Additional study of the neurological effects can be done on audio frequency effects on the human brain by studying brain wave states within the literature. The information will suggest what frequencies or beat-separations are more beneficial from the brainwave delta level of 3 Hz for sleep and up through the gamma level of 50 Hz for high-intensity study and memory improvement.)

Similar studies have given insights to the benefits of hemispherical synchronization within the brain. Routine exercise, body muscles, and neural stimulation of brain cells extends strength and deepens the capability of a person’s nervous system. A function within the nervous system is to keep both the right side and left side of the brain in harmony. Times of dizziness and anxiety have been traced to unbalanced emotions from the left to the right side of the brain. Soothing music and aroma therapy are used to calm a person by coordinating neural pathways from left to right sides of the brain. Most individuals perform logic, mathematics, and sequential data analysis within the left hemisphere and relegate artistic, imaginary, and abstract processing to the right hemisphere of the brain. Binaural stimulation may help the brain strengthen and extend its neuroplastic capability and achieve balance between hemispheres. While this balancing is occurring, a person tends to reduce focus on signals such as pain or anxiety.

EEG and EKG data has shown a reduction of neural noise during exposure to various levels of noninvasive binaural beat transmission. (Credit: AdobeStock)

Clinical studies are using binaural beat applications to assist and reduce overstimulated brains that cause insomnia and even Parkinson’s freezing of gait. Some patients experiencing Parkinson’s effects may have dominant issues in the form of anxiety, above that of fatigue and mobility. More recent binaural testing data has been showing promise, but with limited depth of immediate success. One concept is to combine current Parkinson’s therapy simultaneously with binaural beat applications with the hope of multiplying relief for the patient.

New Devices in Development

To support this approach, new audio devices are in development. A key to the success of audio signal triggering requires offering an adjustable beatshifting control device that can be operated by patients. Spinal modulation physicians have success with patients using simple control paddles to adjust modulation frequencies. Spinal modulation devices have proven effective because of the technology’s adaptive process, and they can be small, rugged, and portable. Parkinson’s patients may also be dependent on an uncomplicated frequency-tuning device that can easily adjust the beatspread of the right and left signals from one side to the other. This spread will undoubtedly vary from patient to patient. EEG tests alone will vary and may not report the same control successes as the individual using the adjustable device personally.

Fig. 1 - Binaural signal beat shift.

Electronic Circuits. Electronic circuits are being designed to vary beat signal shifts in the range of needs for very low frequency applications (see Figure 1). Designers can set one side for the reference beat rate, such as at 40 Hz, and then offset the other side beat by various step sizes. This is done by varying the repeat frequency using the basic formula for adjusting frequency:

To assist finding a neurological entraining signal within the brain, a variable frequency oscillator can be prototyped on a small circuit board to select the optimum frequency and beat rates for Parkinson’s applications (i.e., patients with signal control modules may vary beat-delays or frequencies to help determine what settings work best for them; see Figure 2). With a slide switch control paddle, the capacitor C1, as well as the inductance between pins 1 and 2 within the integrated chip, patients can vary the phase-shifts of the beat differential to find a resonant signal set that attracts a focus on their neuron firing system enough to help relieve some of the anxiety occurring within the patient. This step may vary from person to person in finding a neurological entraining set of frequencies and beat delays. Natural neurological resonance levels vary from patient to patient. This process is well known for optimizing spinal pain modulation tones for patients with lower back injuries.

Paddle Design. A proposed control paddle design to personally adjust binaural beat shifting would be similar to controllers used for spinal modulation as well as to those applied to patients with cervical tension issues.

Hearing Devices. Current methods of using separate headphones for separated beats to the right and left ear have some limitations. Standard audio headphones can block out other sounds in a room or in public. An improvement would be to use cochlear hearing methods for bone conduction to transmit the two binaural signals to each side of the skull. Tests have shown that the brain can easily handle both the audio signals being processed and the conduction sound beats from the two sides of the skull.

Standard cochlear transmitters collect data from a receiving device mounted behind the ear and then use digital pulse-modulation through the skull and jaw bones to an implanted array inside the cochlea. (Both conductive and sensorineural hearing devices are undergoing continual refinements and design updates, however.) Detailed listening of speech can function through the normal hearing process while binaural beats are less precise and require less detailed attention. Studies are in process to define and determine signal octaves and variations on beat spread for optimum improvements.

Fig. 2 - Active low pass filer with 320 Hz cutoff frequency.

Currently, a binaural cochlear design for Parkinson’s relief is being tested without the need for implants inside the cochlea. Bone-conductive hearing-assist devices that look like headbands also provide audio entertainment assistance for sporting events or watching TV. Bone-conductive headbands can be designed to receive the binaural signal pair and transmit separate beats to each side of the skull with little medical intervention or cochlear surgery. The new bone-conduction technology creates the vibrations and transmits sound through the bones of the patient’s face directly to the inner ear.

Quality of Life

Cochlear hearing. (Credit: AdobeStock)

Results for Parkinson’s tremor and sensory relief is being tested with volunteer patients. Early indicators suggest that there are significant mood improvements that assist in the quality of life for the patients testing the devices. Previous studies have shown that beat separation can relieve the random neurological firing that causes anxiety-based tremor and instability. A more popular approach may be to offer sets of hearing aids built to process binaural beat-based music into patient’s ears. A binaural beat generator can operate similar to bone conduction but with less equipment. Advanced hearing aids can process background music received on Bluetooth wavelengths and control the audio level at approximately 15 percent, simultaneously with amplification for voice and outside sounds at an 85 percent level. At least one hearing aid company currently features binaural hearing systems for focused signal reception with noise attenuation from other areas in the room. Binaural beat hearing aid systems would readily adapt to daily living. Challenges being studied include:

  • How long will one binaural beats set assist Parkinson’s patients in reducing neural anxiety?

  • Will a control paddle be needed continuously?

  • Will beats be effective over long periods?

These and other questions need clinical and practical testing to achieve a more effective way of sustaining the quality of life of Parkinson’s patients.

This article was written by Robert Stanton, Director of Technology at Omnetics, Minneapolis, MN. For more information, visit here .