Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects millions of children and adults (up to 5% of children in the US). Growing evidence suggests that innovative brain training and neurofeedback options may become part of the overall treatment to help these individuals. In order to help you navigate the growing range of options, we summarize below some of the most recent research on the topic to help you better understand what is going in the brain of a person with ADHD and to provide you with up-to-date information on what can be done to fight the disorder and improve the lives of people suffering from it.
First of all, what is ADHD, and what kind of attention is involved in ADHD?
ADHD may be considered as a problem in the wilful control of attention as opposed to a pure deficit in the ability to pay attention. An excellent recent article by the Dana Foundation shows you that attention is more complex than you probably thought, explaining how scientists have identified at least three major components of attention that are served by discrete but integrally connected neural networks: The "alerting network" .… The "orienting network".…executive attention.….
Growing research also suggests that there is more than one explana¬tion for the deficits observed in children with ADHD, offering thought-provoking clues about what might be going wrong in the brains of children with ADHD, and about potential solutions.
The fundamental deficit in individuals with ADHD may be one of self-control, or managing one's attention, and of working memory-the ability to hold and manipulate several units of information in our minds at the same time. Problems with "attention deficit" itself may be a secondary characteristic of the disorder. This is important because it hints at new ways to deal with the challenge.
Innovative Interventions: Working Memory Training and Physical Exercise
Working Memory Training, a type of evidence-based brain training, can be beneficial to children and adults with attentional problems. Working memory training improves working memory more than stimulant medication treatment, and benefits persist longer. Wikipedia adds that "Recent studies suggest that working memory can be improved by working memory training. Perhaps of greater importance, another study has found after a period of working memory training an increase in a range of cognitive abilities and an increase in IQ test scores of approximately 8%."
Physical Exercise can also be seen as a Treatment for ADHD. Physical activity may be beneficial to youth with ADHD. Findings from several large and well-controlled experiments suggest that physical exercise can have a positive influence on children's cognitive functioning.
Meditation and ADHD
Mindfulness Meditation is another type of brain training that may benefit adolescents and adults with attention deficits. Although medication treatment is effective for many individuals with ADHD, no matter the age, new non-pharmaceutical interventions such as meditation can complement medication because not everyone benefits from medication in the same way; because, even among those who benefit, many still have difficulties that need to be addressed via other means; and because some people experience adverse effects that prevent them from remaining on medication for long periods of time.
Because of the widespread interest in new ADHD interventions, it is important to understand that these new ADHD interventions are not magic pills or general solutions, but targeted programs that may help the users when used appropriately. As the authors of a recent study on meditation noted, "…mindfulness meditation involves experiential learning via silent periods of sitting meditation or slow walking and purposeful attention to daily activities. Relaxation, although often induced during the training, is not the sole goal of the activity; rather, the main activity is a cognitive and intention-based process characterized by self-regulation and attention to the present moment with an open and accepting orientation towards one's experiences."
Not a magic pill or treatment, but a good way to increase the capacity to self-regulate and pay attention.
Neurofeedback and ADHD
Neurofeedback — also known as EEG Biofeedback — is a type of biofeedback in which individuals are provided real-time feedback on their brainwave patterns and taught to produce and manage patterns consistent with a focused, attentive state. This is often done by collecting brainwave information (EEG) from individuals as they focus on stimuli presented on a computer screen. Their ability to control the stimuli is contingent on maintaining the brainwave pattern being trained. The good news is that benefits can last long after treatment had ended. The bad news is that not all children show benefits.
To sum up, there is a new understanding of what the real deficits are in kids and adults with ADHD, and consequently, a growing interest in new interventions, such as brain training, exercise, neurofeedback, and meditation, that can help address those deficits as part of a multi-pronged approach to treat attention disorders. In order to identify which intervention or interventions may be of most help to you or your loved ones, I encourage you to discuss options with a doctor or psychologist. They can help you separate hope from hype and find a solution that can make a real difference.