For Adults with ADHD: What Should you Doctor be Doing for your ADHD?

For Adults with ADHD: What Should Your Doctor be Doing for your ADHD?

Recognizing whether your ADHD is being managed appropriately requires an understanding of what constitutes effective treatment. Here are some indicators of proper ADHD treatment:

Recognizing whether your ADHD is being managed appropriately requires an understanding of what constitutes effective treatment. Here are some indicators of proper ADHD treatment:

Comprehensive Evaluation: An appropriate diagnosis of ADHD involves a comprehensive evaluation, including medical history, clinical interviews, and assessment tools. It should also exclude other conditions that may mimic ADHD.

Clear Communication: Your doctor should provide a clear explanation of ADHD, its symptoms, treatment options, potential side effects, and expected outcomes. They should answer your questions patiently and help dispel any misconceptions.

Individualized Treatment Plan: ADHD treatment often involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. Your doctor should tailor the treatment plan to your specific needs, symptoms, and life circumstances.

Medication Management: If medication is part of your treatment plan, your doctor should monitor its effects and side effects closely, adjusting the dosage as necessary. Remember, the aim is to maximize benefits and minimize side effects.  Much research shows that it is usually best to start treatment with an FDA approved medication.  If your doctor decides otherwise, you should ask why.

Psychotherapy and Coaching: Pills don’t provide skills.  Many adults with ADHD never acquired life skills due to untreated ADHD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is beneficial for managing ADHD. Your doctor might recommend this and refer you to a psychologist, or they might provide some elements of these services themselves.  

Regular Follow-Ups: Regular follow-ups are critical to assess the effectiveness of the treatment plan and to make necessary adjustments. Your doctor should be tracking your progress and adapting your treatment as needed.

Empowering You: A good doctor will support you in managing your ADHD, providing education, resources, and tools that empower you to lead a healthy, fulfilling life.

Focus on Strengths: ADHD can come with strengths, such as creativity, dynamism, and the ability to think outside the box. An effective healthcare provider will help you leverage these strengths.

Involvement of Loved Ones: Depending on your circumstances, involving your loved ones in your treatment process can be beneficial. They can provide additional support and understanding.

Co-ordinating with Other Healthcare Providers: If you have other healthcare providers involved in your care, your doctor should communicate and coordinate with them to ensure consistent and comprehensive care.

Remember, you have the right to seek a second opinion if you feel your ADHD is not being appropriately managed. Trust your instincts and advocate for your health. It may also be helpful to join ADHD support groups (online or offline) to connect with others who share similar experiences. Their insights and recommendations could be beneficial.  Also keep in mind that achieving an optimal outcome for one’s ADHD often requires the doctor to try a few different medications as it is not currently possible to predict which patients do best on which medications.

January 29, 2024

Hong Kong population study finds methylphenidate use is associated with reduced risk of fractures among persons with ADHD

Hong Kong Population Study Finds Methylphenidate Use is Associated With Reduced Risk of Fractures Among Persons with ADHD

Some animal studies and laboratory experiments have suggested that methylphenidate, the most widely prescribed pharmaceutical to treat ADHD, may weaken bones. On the other hand, other studies have indicated that methylphenidate is associated with lower risk of injury.

Some animal studies and laboratory experiments have suggested that methylphenidate, the most widely prescribed pharmaceutical to treat ADHD, may weaken bones. On the other hand, other studies have indicated that methylphenidate is associated with lower risk of injury.

What, then, is the overall effect? 

The Hong Kong Hospital Authority is the sole public health provider for the city’s 7.3 million residents. Using the Clinical Data Analysis and Reporting System, the Authority’s electronic database, an international study team set out to explore this question.

Among 43,841 individuals with ADHD medication, the team identified 2,023 children and youths 5 through 24 years old with both methylphenidate prescription and a fracture between January 2001 and December 2020. 

In the six months following prescription, individuals were found to be roughly 40% less likely to be treated for a fracture than in the six months prior to prescription. The same held true when comparing the period 7 to 12 months after prescription with the six months prior to prescription. 

As a control, the team also looked at the effect of methylphenidate prescription on a completely unrelated condition – diseases of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. 

In this case, there was absolutely no difference in disease incidence for equal periods of time before and after initiation of methylphenidate treatment.

The team concluded, “for all-cause fractures, the results of the … within-individual comparison demonstrated that the use of methylphenidate is associated with lower risk … compared with the … period before the treatment initiation.”

January 30, 2024

Meta-analysis suggests regular exercise improves core symptoms and executive functions in child and adolescent ADHD

Meta-analysis Suggests Regular Exercise Improves Core Symptoms and Executive Functions in Child and Adolescent ADHD

A Chinese study team has performed an updated meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) published through July 2022, looking specifically at the effects of chronic exercise on ADHD core symptoms and executive functions in children and adolescents.

A Chinese study team has performed an updated meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) published through July 2022, looking specifically at the effects of chronic exercise on ADHD core symptoms and executive functions in children and adolescents.

The researchers defined chronic to mean exercise interventions lasting at least six weeks, with the longest clocking in at well over a year (72 weeks). 

They only included RCTs with blinding of all assessors who measured the primary outcomes, to guard against any conscious or unconscious bias.

A total of 22 studies met criteria for inclusion in the series of meta-analyses they performed. The RCTs were widely distributed, with four from North America, three from Africa, three from Europe, eleven from Asia, and one from Oceania.

Three studies were rated as being at low risk of bias, the other 19 at moderate risk of bias.

Meta-analysis of eleven RCTs with a combined 514 participants reported a small-to-medium reduction in ADHD core symptoms. Between-study variation (heterogeneity) was moderate, and there was no indication of publication bias.

Breaking that down by age group, for children (eight RCTs, 357 children) the reduction in core symptoms was likewise small-to-medium, versus a medium effect size reduction among adolescents (three RCTs, 157 adolescents), with no heterogeneity.

When the control group received no treatment or was sedentary (8 RCTs, 422 participants), the effect size remained small-to-medium, whereas when the control group received education, it became large (two RCTs, 58 participants). 

Improvements in executive functions were even more pronounced. Meta-analysis of 17 RCTs with a combined 795 participants yielded a medium-to-large effect size reduction in executive functions overall. Heterogeneity was moderate, with absolutely no sign of publication bias.

More specifically, there was a medium effect size improvement in working memory (10 RCTs, 290 participants), a medium-to-large effect size improvement in cognitive flexibility (8 RCTs, 206 participants), and a large effect size improvement in inhibition (12 RCTs, 299 participants). 

Once again, adolescents benefited more than children. Whereas children showed medium effect size improvements in executive function (14 RCTs, 659 children), adolescents registered enormous improvements (3 RCTs, 136 adolescents).

One note of caution, though. Among RCTs rated low risk of bias, effect size improvements in both ADHD core symptoms (3 RCTs, 180 participants) and executive functions (2 RCTs, 86 participants) were small and did not reach statistical significance. That suggests a need for more and better RCTs to reach a more settled verdict.

For now, the authors concluded, “This meta-analysis suggests that CEIs [chronic exercise interventions] have small-to-moderate effects on overall core symptoms and executive functions in children and adolescents with ADHD.”

February 12, 2024

Meta-analysis indicates physical activity interventions lead to major improvements in motor proficiency in children and adolescents with ADHD

Meta-analysis Indicates Physical Activity Lead to Major Improvements in Motor Proficiency in Children with ADHD

The three primary symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, which can significantly limit personal, social, academic, or occupational functioning.

The three primary symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, which can significantly limit personal, social, academic, or occupational functioning. 

In addition to these symptoms, between a third and a half of children and adolescents with ADHD have limited motor proficiency. They are less coordinated or skilled in performing motor tasks than their peers. This in turn reduces their participation in physical activities. They are more likely to become overweight or obese. They are also more likely to have difficulty socializing with peers.

Current ADHD medications are effective at treating the primary symptoms of ADHD, but have no known effect on impaired motor proficiency. 

Noting that “physical activity interventions are relatively easy to implement and have been shown to improve motor proficiency compared to other behavioral therapies,” a joint Chinese and American study team set out to explore effect sizes through a systematic review of the peer-reviewed medical literature.

They identified ten studies with a total of 413 participants suitable for meta-analysis. Overall, physical activity interventions led to very large effect size improvements in motor proficiency. There was no sign of publication bias, but considerable variation (heterogeneity) between studies.

To address this heterogeneity, the team next investigated how different types of physical activity intervention affected outcomes. Those that concentrated on body coordination, fine motor control (manual dexterity, using the small muscles in our hands and wrists), and object control (moving or receiving an object such as a ball with accuracy) were found to be responsible for the large effect size improvements in motor proficiency, this time with low heterogeneity.

By contrast, strength and agility training and locomotor training (such as walking, running, hopping, skipping) were associated with smaller effect size improvements that were no longer significant, and continued to vary significantly between studies.

Despite combining ten separate studies, sample sizes remained small, even more so when broken down by type of physical activity intervention. Strength and agility interventions were associated with a medium-to-large effect size improvement, but with only four studies combining 131 participants, may simply have been under-powered to achieve significance. Similarly, locomotor interventions were associated with small-to-medium effect size improvement, but with only three studies and a total of 117 participants, may again have been under-powered. 

While these preliminary findings look promising, they will need additional studies and greater numbers of total participants to be confirmed.

March 7, 2024

Combating Misinformation about ADHD on Social Media and the Internet

Combating Misinformation about ADHD on Social Media and The Internet

In our digital age, the internet serves as a powerful platform for accessing health information. Yet, with this great power comes great responsibility. Misinformation, particularly concerning ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), is rife online, leading to confusion, the perpetuation of stigma, and potentially harmful consequences for those affected by the disorder and their loved ones.

In our digital age, the internet serves as a powerful platform for accessing health information. Yet, with this great power comes great responsibility. Misinformation, particularly concerning ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), is rife online, leading to confusion, the perpetuation of stigma, and potentially harmful consequences for those affected by the disorder and their loved ones. This blog will delve into some of these misconceptions, their impacts, and how to ensure the ADHD information you come across online is reliable, with a special emphasis on a recent study examining ADHD content on TikTok.

The Misinformation Problem

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. It's characterized by patterns of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that are persistent. Despite its recognition as a well-documented medical condition, it is often misunderstood, partly due to widespread misinformation.

Common ADHD misconceptions include:

ADHD is not a real disorder: This belief is found scattered across online forums, and even some ill-informed news articles.

ADHD is a result of bad parenting: Numerous online discussions blame parents for their child's ADHD. However, research has shown that ADHD has biological origins and is not a result of parenting styles.

ADHD only affects children: Many websites and social media posts promote this myth, but ADHD can continue into adulthood.

ADHD medication leads to substance abuse: Certain posts on social media may wrongly claim that ADHD medication leads to substance abuse.

A recent study explored the quality of ADHD content on TikTok, a popular video-sharing social media platform. Researchers investigated the top 100 most popular ADHD-related videos on the platform. Shockingly, they found that 52% of these videos were classified as misleading, while only 21% were categorized as useful. The majority of these misleading videos were uploaded by non-healthcare providers.

The Impact of Misinformation

Misinformation about ADHD can have harmful impacts on individuals with the disorder and their families:

Delayed diagnosis and treatment: Misinformation can deter individuals and parents from seeking professional help, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Increased stigma: False information can amplify societal stigma about ADHD, leading to misunderstanding and discrimination.

Harmful treatment approaches: Misinformation can lead individuals to opt for ineffective or even harmful treatments.

The proliferation of misleading ADHD content on platforms like TikTok only amplifies these problems. The TikTok study found that while the videos were generally understandable, they had low actionability — meaning they offered little practical advice for managing ADHD.

Identifying Reliable Information

Given the prevalence of misinformation, it's crucial to be able to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information about ADHD. Here are some pointers:

Use reputable sources: Trustworthy information often comes from recognized health organizations, government health departments, or reputable medical institutions.  Some examples are NIH, Mayo Clinic, CDC and www.ADHDevidence.org

Be wary of fake experts: If you see info from a self-proclaimed expert, you can check to see if they are really an expert by going to www.expertscape.com.  Or go to www.pubmed.gov to see if they’ve ever written anything about ADHD that has been approved by their peers.

Look for citations: Reliable sources often cite scientific research to back their claims.

Beware of sensational headlines: Clickbait headlines often oversimplify complex topics like ADHD.

Consult a professional: If you're unsure about any information, consult a healthcare professional.

The TikTok study's findings underscore the importance of these guidelines, as healthcare providers tended to upload higher quality and more useful videos compared to non-healthcare providers.

In our era of digital information, the challenge of separating ADHD facts from fiction is significant but not insurmountable. By becoming discerning consumers of online information, we can help prevent the spread of misinformation, support those affected by ADHD, and foster a more informed and understanding society. It's also essential for clinicians to be aware of the extent of health misinformation online and its potential impact on patient care. This way, they can guide their patients toward reliable sources and away from misleading content.

March 11, 2024

Pair of large U.S. cohort studies find little to no evidence of association between child and adolescent ADHD and digital media screen time

Large Cohort Studies Find Little-to-No Evidence of Association Between ADHD and Digital Media Screen Time

These days, kids in America are using digital devices like smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs more than ever. Some people worry that this might be linked to ADHD, a condition that makes it hard for kids to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors.

These days, kids in America are using digital devices like smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs more than ever. Some people worry that this might be linked to ADHD, a condition that makes it hard for kids to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors.

Two new studies tried to find out if there's a connection between screen time and ADHD. They used data from a big survey about kids' health across the U.S. One study looked at nearly 46,000 kids aged six to 17 over two years, from 2019 to 2020. The other study analyzed data from over 101,000 kids aged zero to 17, from 2018 to 2020.

The studies figured out if a child had ADHD by asking their caregivers if a doctor or health care provider ever told them that the child had ADHD.

Findings from the First Study

The first study found that kids who used screens for two to three hours a day were 22% more likely to have ADHD. Kids who used screens for four or more hours a day were 74% more likely to have ADHD compared to kids who used screens for less than two hours a day.

However, when the researchers considered other factors like the child's age, sex, poverty status, parents' education, race, and other health problems, the link between screen time and ADHD disappeared. They did find a small link between screen time and anxiety and depression, but no link at all with ADHD.

Findings from the Second Study

The second study also considered factors that might affect the results, but they didn't look at whether the child had other behavior problems. They found that for kids five years old and under, using screens for up to three hours a day didn't make them more likely to have ADHD. But kids who used screens for four or more hours a day were twice as likely to have ADHD compared to kids who used screens for less than an hour a day.

For kids aged six to 17, those who used screens for two hours a day were 11% more likely to have ADHD. Kids who used screens for three hours a day were 16% more likely, and kids who used screens for four or more hours a day were 32% more likely to have ADHD compared to kids who used screens for less than an hour a day.

Important Points to Remember

There are two key things to keep in mind from these studies:

  1. The differences found were pretty small.
  2. The first study suggested that anxiety and depression might actually be the reason for the link between screen time and ADHD, not the screen time itself.

Conclusion

Overall, these studies didn't find strong evidence that using digital devices causes ADHD in kids and teenagers. While there might be some small connections, other factors like anxiety and depression could play a bigger role.  Also, this was not a controlled experiment.  It is an observational study that cannot rule out many factors. It is importaant to consider that having ADHD causes one to use digital devices more frequently.

Meta-analysis finds physical activity associated with improved inhibitory function

Understanding the Role of Disinhibition in ADHD and the Impact of Physical Activity

A key component of ADHD is inhibition dysfunction disorder. Inhibition function involves control of one’s attention, thought, emotions, and behavior. That enables individuals to overcome strong external temptations or internal tendencies, and become more focused.

ADHD often includes a problem called disinhibition. This means that the brain struggles to control attention, thoughts, emotions, and behavior, which can lead to negative outcomes. Normally, inhibition helps people stay focused and avoid distractions, but when it fails, it's called disinhibition.

Children with ADHD who have problems with inhibition may face issues like substance abuse, self-harm, and antisocial behavior. Improving their inhibition can help them better manage themselves, do well in school, and have better relationships.

A team of researchers from China and South Korea explored whether physical activity could improve inhibition in children with ADHD. They reviewed studies and excluded those without control groups, those with poor quality assessments, and those involving other interventions like cognitive training or supplements. Their final analysis included 11 studies with 713 participants.

Key Findings on Physical Activity

  1. Frequency and Duration: Physical activity had to be done at least twice a week to show significant improvement in inhibition. Sessions needed to last between 45 minutes to an hour for noticeable benefits, with sessions over an hour showing even greater improvements.
  2. Consistency: Regular, long-term physical activity was more effective than single sessions.
  3. Intensity: Moderate-to-vigorous activities were better than moderate activities alone.
  4. Type of Activity:some text
    • Open-skilled sports (like ping-pong or taekwondo) which involve reacting to changing environments, showed the most significant improvements.
    • Closed-skill sports (like running or swimming) showed smaller improvements.
    • Exergaming (exercise using video games) had moderate benefits.
  5. Specific Improvements:some text
    • Improvements in response inhibition (the ability to control impulsive responses) were small to medium.
    • Improvements in interference suppression (preventing distractions from affecting working memory) were large.

Conclusion

The research concluded that physical activity can significantly improve the inhibition in children with ADHD, especially with regular, moderate-to-vigorous, open-skilled exercise done at least twice a week for an hour or more. Future studies should continue to explore this with high-quality methods to confirm these findings.

June 4, 2024

Meta-analysis finds limited benefits from computerized cognitive training

Meta-analysis Finds Limited Benefits from Computerized Cognitive Training

Computerized cognitive training (CCT) uses computers to try to strengthen cognitive skills and processes, reduce ADHD symptoms, and improve executive functioning. Executive functions are cognitive processes and mental skills that help individuals plan, monitor, and successfully execute their goals.

Computerized cognitive training (CCT) uses computers to try to strengthen cognitive skills and processes, reduce ADHD symptoms, and improve executive functioning. Executive functions are cognitive processes and mental skills that help individuals plan, monitor, and successfully execute their goals.

CCT programs target one or more cognitive processes such as motor inhibition, interference inhibition, sustained attention, and working memory. They ramp up task difficulty as performance improves. The goal is to harness the brain’s inherent adaptability (neuroplasticity) to boost performance. 

A European study team that previously probed the efficacy of CCT through meta-analysis had been unable to provide a robust estimate of effect size due to an insufficient number of high-quality trials with probably blinded outcomes. Noting that “there have been a considerable number of new RCTs [randomized controlled trials] published, many with larger samples, well-controlled designs and blinded outcomes,” the team performed an updated systematic review and meta-analysis.

They included RCTs with participants of any age who either had a clinical diagnosis of ADHD or were above cut-off on validated ADHD rating scales. RCTs had to have been peer-reviewed and published in an academic journal, and to have reported a validated outcome measure of ADHD symptoms, neuropsychological processes, and/or academic outcomes.

Fourteen RCTs with a combined total of 631 participants had probably blinded outcomes. Meta-analysis of these studies yielded no significant effect on either overall ADHD symptoms or hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms. There was a marginally significant reduction in inattention symptoms, but the effect size was small. Between-study variation (heterogeneity) was negligible and there was no sign of publication bias.

Regarding academic outcomes, meta-analyses revealed no gain in arithmetic ability or reading fluency. There was a small but not statistically significant improvement in reading comprehension. Heterogeneity was minimal, with no indication of publication bias.

With two related exceptions, meta-analyses of RCTs measuring executive functions likewise reported no significant improvements in attention, interference inhibition (initial stage in controlling impulsive behavior), motor inhibition (follow-up stage in controlling impulsive behavior), non-verbal reasoning, processing speed, and set shifting (the ability to unconsciously shift attention between one task and another).

The exceptions were for working memory tasks. Meta-analysis of 15 RCTs with a combined 753 participants reported a highly significant small-to-medium effect size improvement in verbal working memory. A separate meta-analysis of nine RCTs with a total of 441 participants similarly reported a highly significant improvement in visuospatial working memory, this time with medium effect size.

The team concluded, “There was no empirical support for the use of CCT as a stand-alone intervention for ADHD symptoms based on the largest and most comprehensive meta-analysis of RCTs conducted to date. Small effects, of likely limited clinical importance, on inattention symptoms were found – but these were limited to the setting in which the intervention was delivered. Robust evidence of small- to-moderate improvements in visual-spatial and verbal STM/WM tasks did not transfer to other domains of executive functions or academic outcomes.”

Daytime Sleepiness, Cognitive Function, and Adult ADHD

What’s the relationship between daytime sleepiness and cognitive functioning in adults with ADHD?

Sleep disorders are one of the most commonly self-reported comorbidities of adults with ADHD, affecting 50 to 70 percent of them.

Sleep disorders are one of the most commonly self-reported comorbidities of adults with ADHD, affecting 50 to 70 percent of them. A team of British researchers set out to see whether this association could be further confirmed with objective sleep measures, using cognitive function tests and electroencephalography (EEG).

Measured as theta/beta ratio, EEG slowing is a widely used indicator in ADHD research. While it occurs normally in non-ADHD adults at the conclusion of a day, during the day it signals excessive sleepiness, whether from obstructive sleep apnea or neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders. Coffee reverses EEG slowing, as do ADHD stimulant medications.

Study participants were either on stable treatment with ADHD medication (stimulant or non-stimulant medication) or on no medication. Participants had to refrain from taking any stimulant medications for at least 48 hours prior to taking the tests. Persons with IQ below 80 or with recurrent depression or undergoing a depressive episode were excluded.

The team administered a cognitive function test, The Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART). Observers rated on-task sleepiness using videos from the cognitive testing sessions. They wired participants for EEG monitoring.

Observer-rated sleepiness was found to be moderately higher in the ADHD group than in controls. Although sleep quality was slightly lower in the sleepy group than in the ADHD group, and symptom severity slightly greater in the ADHD group than the sleepy group, neither difference was statistically significant, indicating extensive overlap.

Omission errors in the SART were strongly correlated with sleepiness level, and the strength of this correlation was independent of ADHD symptom severity. EEG slowing in all regions of the brain was more than 50 percent higher in the ADHD group than in the control group and was highest in the frontal cortex.

Treating the sleepy group as a third group, EEG slowing was highest for the ADHD group, followed closely by the sleepy group, and more distantly by the neurotypical group. The gaps between the ADHD and sleepy groups on the one hand, and the neurotypical group on the other, were both large and statistically significant, whereas the gap between the ADHD and sleepy groups was not. EEG slowing was both a significant predictor of ADHD and of ADHD symptom severity.

The authors concluded, “These findings indicate that the cognitive performance deficits routinely attributed to ADHD … are largely due to on-task sleepiness and not exclusively due to ADHD symptom severity. … we would like to propose a simple working hypothesis that daytime sleepiness plays a major role in cognitive functioning of adults with ADHD. … As adults with ADHD are more severely sleep deprived compared to neurotypical control subjects and are more vulnerable to sleep deprivation, in various neurocognitive tasks they should manifest larger sleepiness-related reductions in cognitive performance. … One clear testable prediction of the working hypothesis would be that carefully controlling for sleepiness, time of day, and/or individual circadian rhythms would result in a substantial reduction in the neurocognitive deficits in replications of classic ADHD studies.”

March 31, 2022

Cognitive Treatment for ADHD Symtoms May Be Uneffective

Meta-analysis finds no significant effect of cognitive treatment on ADHD symptoms and executive functioning when randomized controlled trials are blinded

A Chinese study team performed a systematic search of peer-reviewed journal literature to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examining the efficacy of cognitive training as a treatment for youths with ADHD.

Seventeen RCTs with a combined total of 1,075 participants met standards for inclusion in a series of meta-analyses. Seven RCTs used waitlist controls, seven used placebo training, two used treatment-as-usual, and one used active knowledge training. Participants were unmediated in four RCTs, with varying proportions of medicated participants in the remaining thirteen.

A meta-analysis of 15 RCTs, with a combined 789 participants, assessed changes in inattention symptoms following treatment, as rated by parents or clinicians. It found a small-to-medium effect size improvement in symptoms of inattention. There was no indication of publication bias, but between-study heterogeneity was very high.

But that gain vanished altogether when combining only the six RCTs that were blinded, meaning the symptom evaluators had no idea which participants had received cognitive treatment and which participants had not. There was zero difference between the treatment and control groups. Significantly, between-study heterogeneity also diminished markedly, becoming low to moderate.

A second meta-analysis, of 15 RCTs with a combined 723 participants, assessed changes in hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms following treatment, as rated by parents or clinicians. It found no significant difference between participants who received cognitive training and controls. There was no sign of publication bias, and between-study heterogeneity was moderate-to-high.

The three remaining meta-analyses looked for improvements in executive functions, using the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF).

A meta-analysis of 13 RCTs, with a combined 748 participants, found a small-to-medium effect size improvement in the global executive composite index of BRIEF, as evaluated by parents. There was no sign of publication bias, and between-study heterogeneity was moderate-to-high.

But that improvement again disappeared altogether when considering only the five RCTs that were blinded. Between-study heterogeneity also became insignificant.

A meta-analysis of 6 RCTs with 401 participants found no significant improvement in the behavioral regulation index of BRIEF. Heterogeneity was negligible.

Finally, a meta-analysis of 7 RCTs with 463 participants also found no significant improvement in the metacognition index of BRIEF. In this case, between-study heterogeneity was high.

While acknowledging that "when analyses were set in blinded measures, effect sizes were not statistically significant," the author nevertheless concluded, "In summary, multiple cognitive training alleviates the presentation of inattention and improves general executive function behaviors in children with ADHD." This suggests an underlying bias on the part of the study team in favor of treatment even when not supported by best (i.e., blinded) methodological practices.

March 17, 2022

How Effective Is Exercise in Treating ADHD?

New meta-analysis explores effectiveness of physical exercise as treatment for ADHD

Noting that "Growing evidence shows that moderate physical activity (PA) can improve psychological health through enhancement of neurotransmitter systems," and "PA may play a physiological role similar to stimulant medications by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters, thereby alleviating the symptoms of ADHD," a Chinese team of researchers performed a comprehensive search of the peer-reviewed journal literature for studies exploring the effects of physical activity on ADHD symptoms.

They found nine before-after studies with a total of 232 participants, and fourteen two-group control studies with a total of 303 participants, that met the criteria for meta-analysis.

The meta-analysis of before-after studies found moderate reductions in inattention and moderate-to-strong reductions in hyperactivity/impulsivity. It also reported moderate reductions in emotional problems and small-to-moderate reductions in behavioral problems.

The effect was even stronger among unmediated participants. There was a very strong reduction in inattention and a strong reduction in hyperactivity/impulsivity.

The meta-analysis of two-group control studies found strong reductions in inattention, but no effect on hyperactivity/impulsivity. It also found no significant effect on emotional and behavioral problems.

There was no sign of publication bias in any of the meta-analyses.

The authors concluded, "Our results suggest that PA intervention could improve ADHD-related symptoms, especially inattention symptoms. However, due to a lot of confounders, such as age, gender, ADHD subtypes, the lack of rigorous double-blinded randomized-control studies, and the inconsistency of the PA program, our results still need to be interpreted with caution."

February 21, 2022

Exercise Found To Improve Certain ADHD Symptoms

Meta-analysis Finds Physical Activity Improves Executive Functions in Persons with ADHD

ADHD patients may substantially improve executive functions through persistent and protracted physical exercise.

Executive function(EF) is associated with the prefrontal cortex. It includes three core components: inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. Inhibitory control is the ability to avoid distractions, inhibit or control impulsive responses, and change to more thoughtful responses. Cognitive flexibility involves switching mental tasks or strategies, seeing problems from multiple perspectives, and identifying different ways of solving them. Working memory involves holding information in the mind ready for an ongoing processing.


Persons with neurodevelopmental disorders, including ADHD, are known to have EF deficits relative to their normally-developing counterparts.


An international research team conducted a comprehensive search of the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify studies that have explored how physical activity affects those deficits in persons with neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically ADHD.


They identified 34 studies with 1,058 participants, of which 13 with 400 looked specifically at ADHD. There was substantial geographic diversity in the ADHD studies, spanning the globe: the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Taiwan, South Korea, Iran, Israel, and Tunisia.


Among the ADHD studies, a meta-analysis found physical activity improved executive functions overall, with a large effect size. More specifically, it included twelve tests of inhibitory control, four for working memory, three for cognitive flexibility, and one each for switching and planning (there was often more than one tester in the study).


There was no sign of publication bias. There was, however, substantial heterogeneity between studies. A further breakdown indicated substantial divergence by type of physical activity, with a large effect size for sports, medium effect sizes for aerobic exercise and motor skills training, and small effect size for exergaming (video games that are also a form of exercise).


Session time also made a big difference. Sessions at least an hour long had large effect sizes, those between 45 minutes and an hour had medium effect sizes, and shorter sessions had smaller effect sizes.
Improvements in inhibitory control had large effect sizes, those in cognitive flexibility had medium-to-large effect sizes, and those in working memory had small-to-medium effect sizes. All of which suggest ADHD patients can substantially improve executive functions through persistent and protracted physical exercise.

February 5, 2022

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and Improving Response Inhibition

How effective is transcranial direct current stimulation at improving response inhibition?

Though initially offering some measurable results, further high-quality studies are needed to determine how effective tDCS may be in treating certain ADHD symptoms.

Inhibitory control is an essential cognitive control function whereby the prefrontal cortex blocks planned motor actions or interrupts motor actions already initiated by other parts of the brain. For example, someone might instinctually reach for a candy bar but then put it back upon thinking that eating it would conflict with a higher-level goal of cutting down on sugar consumption. Impairment of inhibitory control is a known characteristic of several psychiatric disorders, including ADHD.

Any generally safe treatment with the ability to at least partially reverse such impairment would therefore be useful. Researchers are currently experimenting with transcranial direct current stimulation, a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that uses a weak electrical current to stimulate specific regions of the brain.

What, then, do we know so far about its potential effectiveness for improving inhibitory control?

A team of experts at the University of Tübingen in Germany conducted a comprehensive search of the peer-reviewed medical literature to find out. They then performed a meta-analysis of 45 studies with a combined total of over 1,600 participants. All but four of the studies used sham or other active controls.

The overall meta-analysis found a significant but small improvement in response inhibition. But it also found evidence of publication bias. Adjusting for publication bias reduced the effect size in half, to a tiny but still significant improvement.

The meta-analysis relied on two behavioral tasks that require inhibitory control to measure response inhibition: the go-/no-task, and the stop-signal task. Separating these, there was no significant improvement in the go/no-go task performance. All the improvement was concentrated on the stop-signal task.

The authors noted, "A potential limitation of this meta-analysis is that we could not exhaustively model-dependent relationships between moderator variables (e.g., tDCS polarity and electrode placement)," and "Further high-quality studies are needed to investigate potential interactions between technical and functional parameters in tDCS research."

January 14, 2022

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation: Can It Treat ADHD?

How effective and safe is transcranial direct current stimulation for treating ADHD?

ADHD is hypothesized to arise from 1) poor inhibitory control resulting from impaired executive functions which are associated with reduced activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and increased activation of some subcortical regions; and 2)hyperarousal to environmental stimuli, hampering the ability of the executive functioning system, particularly the medial frontal cortex, orbital and ventromedial prefrontal areas, and subcortical regions such as the caudate nucleus, amygdala, nucleus accumbens, and thalamus, to control the respective stimuli.

These brain anomalies, rendered visible through magnetic resonance imaging, have led researchers to try new means of treatment to directly address the deficits. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that uses a weak electrical current to stimulate specific regions of the brain.

Efficacy:

A team of researchers from Europe and ran performed a systematic search of the literature and identified fourteen studies exploring the safety and efficacy of tDCS. Three of these studies examined the effects on ADHD symptoms. They found a large effect size for the inattention subscale and a medium effect size for the hyperactivity/impulsivity. Yet, as the authors cautioned, "a definite conclusion concerning the clinical efficacy of tDCS based on the results of these three studies is not possible."

The remaining studies investigated the effects on specific neuropsychological and cognitive deficits in ADHD:

  •  Working memory was improved by anodal stimulation - but not cathodal stimulation - of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Anodal stimulation of the right inferior frontal gyrus had no effect.
  •  Response inhibition: Anodal stimulation of the left or right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was more effective than anodal stimulation of the bilateral prefrontal cortex.
  • Motivational and emotional processing was improved only with stimulation of both the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex.

The fact that heterogeneity in the methodology of these studies made meta-analysis impossible means these results, while promising, cannot be seen as in any way definitive.

Safety:

Ten studies examined childhood ADHD. Three found no adverse effects either during or after tDCS. One study reported a feeling of "shock" in a few patients during tDCS. Several more reported skin tingling and itching during tDCS. Several also reported mild headaches.

The four studies of adults with ADHD reported no major adverse events. One study reported a single incident of acute mood change, sadness, diminished motivation, and tension five hours after stimulation. Another reported mild instances of skin tingling and burning sensations.

To address side effects such as tingling and itching, the authors suggested reducing the intensity of the electrical current and increasing the duration. They also suggested placing electrodes at least 6 cm apart to reduce current shunting through the ski. For children, they recommended the use of smaller electrodes for better focus in smaller brains.

The authors concluded, "The findings of this systematic review suggest at least a partial improvement of symptoms and cognitive deficits in ADHD by tDCS. They further suggest that stimulation parameters such as polarity and site are relevant to the efficacy of tDCS in ADHD. Compared to cathodal stimulation, Anodal tDCS seems to have a superior effect on both the clinical symptoms and cognitive deficits. However, the routine clinical application of this method as an efficient therapeutic intervention cannot yet be recommended based on these studies ..."

January 10, 2022

How Effective is Cognitive Training for Preschool Children?

How effective is cognitive training for preschool children?

Further study is needed, but meta-analysis shows small, but not insignificant, effects of pre-school interventions on core executive functions.

A German team of researchers performed a comprehensive search of the medical literature and identified 35randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published in English that explored this question. Participating children were between three and six years old. Children with intellectual disabilities, sensory disabilities, or specific neurological disorders such as epilepsy were excluded.

The total number of participating preschoolers was over three thousand, drawn almost exclusively from the general population, meaning these studies were not specifically evaluating effects on children with ADHD. But given that ADHD results in poorer executive functioning, evidence of the effectiveness of cognitive training would suggest it could help partially reverse such deficits.

RCTs assign participants randomly to a treatment group and a group not receiving treatment but often receiving a placebo. But RCTs themselves vary in risk of bias, depending on:

  • whether the control condition was passive (i.e. waiting list or no treatment) or active/sham (an activity of similar duration and intensity to the treatment condition)
  • whether the outcome was measured by subjective rating (e.g. by questionnaires, susceptible to reporting biases) or more objective neuropsychological testing;
  • whether the assessment of outcome was by blinded assessors unaware of participants' treatment conditions;
  • whether there was a risk of bias from participants dropping out of the trial.

After evaluating the RCTs by these criteria, the team performed a series of meta-analyses.

Combining the 23 RCTs with over 2,000 children that measured working memory, they found that cognitive training led to robust moderate improvements. Looking only at the eleven most rigorously controlled studies strengthened the effect, with moderate-to-large gains.

Twenty-six RCTs with over 2,200 children assessed inhibitory control. When pooled, they indicated a small-to-moderate improvement from cognitive training. Including only the seven most rigorously controlled studies again strengthened the effect, boosting it into the moderate effect zone.

Twelve RCTs with over 1,500 participants tested the effects of cognitive training on flexibility. When combined, they pointed to moderate gains. Looking at only the four well-controlled studies boosted the effect to strong gains. Yet here there was evidence of publication bias, so no firm conclusion can be drawn.

Only four studies with a combined total of 119 preschoolers tested the effects on ADHD ratings. The meta-analysis found a small but non-significant improvement, very likely due to insufficient sampling. As the authors noted, "some findings of the meta-analysis are limited by the insufficient number of eligible studies. Specifically, more studies are needed which use blinded assessments of subjective ratings of ADHD ... symptoms ..."

The authors concluded that their meta-analyses revealed significant, mostly medium-sized effects of the preschool interventions on core EFs [executive functions] in studies showing the low risk of bias."

January 2, 2022

Can Neurofeedback Improve Executive Functions? New Meta-Analysis

New meta-analysis finds no improvement in executive functions from neurofeedback in children and adolescents

Meta-analysis show neurofeedback treatments resulted in no noticeable improvements in the working memory, response inhibition, or sustained attention of youth with ADHD.

Neurofeedback, also known as electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback, aims to help persons with ADHD train themselves to self-regulate patterns of brain activity associated with the disorder.

An example is theta-beta ratio frequency (TBR) training. Beta waves, with a frequency of 18 to 25 Hz, are associated with electrical activity when the brain is conscious or alert. Theta waves, with a frequency of 4 to 7 Hz, are associated with meditative, daydreaming, or drowsy states. In youths with ADHD, the theta to beta ratio tends to be elevated. TBR training seeks to reduce it.

Neurofeedback is often described as a promising emerging alternative or complement to pharmaceutical treatment. Previous meta-analyses have found neurofeedback can reduce symptoms of ADHD.

But what effect does it have on executive functions? A Thai research team based at Chiang Mai University conducted a comprehensive search of the peer-reviewed journal literature and identified ten studies with results suitable for meta-analysis.

A meta-analysis of all ten studies with a combined total, of 378 participants found no improvement whatsoever in response inhibition.

A second meta-analysis, of nine studies with a combined total of 349 participants, found no improvement in sustained attention.

Finally, a meta-analysis of three studies with a total of 121 participants likewise found no improvement in working memory.

In all three cases, there was no evidence of publication bias.

The authors concluded, "Results did not show the benefits of neurofeedback on executive functions assessed by neuropsychological tests."

December 15, 2021

Meta-analyses Suggest Physical Exercise is Effective Tool in Treating ADHD

Two meta-analyses suggest physical exercise is an effective tool in treating ADHD

Two recent meta-analyses, one by an Asian team, and the other by a European team, have reported encouraging results on the efficacy of physical exercise in treating ADHD among children and adolescents.

One, a Hong Kong-based team (Liang et al. 2021) looked at the effect of exercise on executive functioning.

The team identified fifteen studies with a combined total, of 493 participants that met the criteria for inclusion. As the authors noted, "only a few studies successfully blinded participants and therapists, due to the challenges associated with executing double-blind procedures in non-pharmacological studies."

After adjusting for publication bias, the meta-analysis of the fifteen studies found a large improvement in overall executive functioning.

The studies varied in which aspects of executive functioning were addressed. A meta-analysis of a subset of eleven studies encompassing 406 participants found a large improvement in inhibitory control. A meta-analysis of another subset, of eight studies with a total of 311 participants, found a large improvement in cognitive flexibility. Finally, a meta-analysis of a subset of five studies encompassing 198 participants found a small-to-medium improvement in working memory.

Nine studies involved acute (singular) exercise interventions lasting 5 to 30 minutes, while twelve studies involved chronic (regular) exercise interventions ranging from 6 to 12 weeks, with a total duration of 12 to 75 hours. The chronic exercise was more than twice as effective as acute exercise. The former resulted in large improvements in overall executive functioning, the latter in small-to-medium improvements.

No significant differences were found between aerobic exercises (such as running and swimming) and cognitively engaging exercises(such as table tennis and other ball games, and exergaming ... video games that are also a form of exercise, relying on technology that tracks body movements).

The authors concluded that "Chronic sessions of exercise interventions with moderate intensity should be incorporated as a treatment for children with ADHD to promote executive functions."

Meanwhile, a German study team (Seiffer et al. 2021) looked at the effects of regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on ADHD symptoms in children and adolescents.

They found eleven studies meeting their criteria, with a combined total of 448 participants. A meta-analysis of all eleven studies found a small-to-moderate decline in ADHD symptoms. However, the three studies with blinded outcome assessors found a large and statistically highly significant decline in symptoms, whereas the eight studies with blinded outcome evaluators found only a small decline that was not statistically significant.

When compared with active controls using pharmacotherapy in a subgroup of two studies with 146 participants, pharmacotherapy held a small-to-moderate advantage that fell just short of statistical significance, most likely because of the relatively small sample size.

The authors concluded that moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) "could serve as an alternative treatment for ADHD," but that additional randomized controlled trials "are necessary to increase the understanding of the effect regarding frequency, intensity, type of MVPA interventions, and differential effects on age groups."

December 5, 2021

Swedish Twin Study Finds Association Between Diet and ADHD

Associations between diet and ADHD emerge from Swedish population-based twin study

Sweden has a national single-payer health insurance system that includes virtually the entire population. It also has a system of national registers that track every resident from birth to death. That makes it possible to conduct nationwide population studies with a very high degree of precision and reliability.

In addition, one of the national registers is the Swedish Twin Register. Tracking all twins in the population enables studies to evaluate the degree to which observed associations may be attributable to genetic influences and to familial confounding. The twin method relies on the different levels of genetic relatedness between monozygotic ("identical") twins, who are genetically identical, and dizygotic ("fraternal") twins, who share on average half of their genetic variation (as do ordinary full siblings).

A Swedish team of researchers identified 42,582 Swedish twins born between 1959 and 1985, and who were, therefore, adults by the time of the study (20-47 years old). Of these, 24,872 (three out of five) completed a web-based survey with 1,300 questions covering lifestyle and mental and physical health. Out of this group, 17,999 provided information on ADHD symptoms and food frequency.

Self-reported ADHD symptoms came from nine inattention components and nine hyperactivity/impulsivity components, covering the 18 DSM- IV symptoms of ADHD.

The food frequency questionnaire included 94 food items, with the following frequency categories: never, 1-3 times/month, 1-2 times/week, 3-4 times/week, 5-6 times/week, 1 time/day, 2 times/day, 3 times/day.

In the raw data, the two subtypes of ADHD exhibited very similar associations. Both had significant associations with unhealthy diets. Both were more likely to be eating foods high in added sugar, and neglecting fruits and vegetables while eating more meat and fats.

After adjusting for the degree of relatedness of twins (whether monozygotic or dizygotic) and controlling for the other ADHD subtype, the associations remained statistically significant for inattention, but diminished to negligible levels or became statistically non-significant for hyperactivity/impulsivity.

Even for persons with inattention symptoms, adjusted correlations were small (never exceeding r = 0.10), with the strongest associations being for overall unhealthy eating habits (r = 0.09), eating foods high in added sugar (r = 0.10) or high in fat (r = 0.05), and neglecting fruits and vegetables (r = 0.06). All other associations became statistically non-significant.

For persons with hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, the only associations that remained statistically significant ­- but at tiny effect sizes - were unhealthy dietary patterns (r = 0.04) and consumption of foods high in added sugar (r = 0.03).

The further genetic analysis, therefore, focused on the strongest associations, between ADHD subtypes on the one hand, and unhealthy dietary patterns and eating foods high in added sugar on the other hand. The heritability estimates (the fraction of phenotypic covariance explained by genetic influences) were 44%, 40%, and 37% for inattention and high-sugar food, inattention and unhealthy dietary patterns, and hyperactivity/impulsivity and high-sugar food, respectively.

 When examining only differences between pairs of monozygotic("identical") twins, the correlations became stronger for inattention, rising to r = 0.12 for unhealthy eating habits and r = 0.13 for consumption of foods high in added sugar. For hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, the association with unhealthy eating habits was weaker, and the association with consumption of foods high in added sugar became statistically insignificant.

The authors concluded, "we identified positive associations between self-reported trait dimensions of ADHD and intake of seafood, high-fat food, high-sugar food, high-protein food, and an unhealthy dietary pattern, and negative associations with consumption of fruits, vegetables, and a healthy dietary pattern. However, all the associations are small in magnitude. These associations were stronger for inattention compared to hyperactivity/ impulsivity. This pattern of associations was also reflected at the etiological level, where we found a slightly stronger genetic correlation between inattention with dietary habits and hyperactivity/impulsivity with dietary habits. Non-shared environmental influences also contributed to the overlap between ADHD symptom dimensions and consumption of high-sugar food and unhealthy dietary pattern. However, shared environmental influences probably contributed relatively little to the associations between ADHD symptoms and dietary habits. ... significant MZ twin intraplate differences also provided support for a potential causal link between inattention and dietary habits.

November 29, 2021

Meta-analysis Finds Narrative Language Impairment in Youths with ADHD

Meta-analysis Finds Narrative Language Impairment in Youths with ADHD

Youths with ADHD are known to be more prone to language problems when compared with typically developing peers. To what extent does that affect their ability to share a narrative with others?

A Danish research team conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of the peer-reviewed medical literature to explore this question. They stressed that this ability is important because "a narrative is a genre of discourse - a form of social communication used to derive meaning from experiences and to construct a shared understanding of events. In other words, it is the fundamental ability of orally producing a coherent story." They focused on the production of narratives rather than comprehension.

Studies had to have a minimum of 10 participants. They had to compare aspects of oral narrative production in children and adolescents with either a formal ADHD diagnosis or a score above a clinical cut-off on a validated ADHD rating scale to a control group of typically developing youths. Youths with confirmed autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or language impairment diagnoses were excluded. There were no constraints on IQ.

The team found sixteen studies with a combined total of 1,015 youths that met these criteria and were suitable for meta-analysis.

They examined seven aspects of oral narrative production:

·        Coherence: A story structure that is logical and easy to follow in cause and sequence. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end. There are goals, attempts, and outcomes. A meta-analysis of nine studies with a combined total of 750 participants found youths with ADHD less coherent than their typically developing peers, with a medium effect size. There was virtually no between-study heterogeneity and no sign of publication bias.
·        Cohesion: This ensures referencing of events and characters in a manner that enables the listener to grasp how characters, events, and ideas in a story are related. Ambiguous or contradictory references get in the way of this. A meta-analysis of eight studies with a combined total of 501 participants found youths with ADHD showed less cohesion than their typically developing peers, with a medium effect size. Again, with virtually no between-study heterogeneity, and no sign of publication bias.
·        Disruptions: These can be sequence errors, misinterpretations, embellishments, or confabulations - fabricating imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory. A meta-analysis of six studies with 389 participants found youths with ADHD had more disruptions than their typically developing peers, with a small-to-medium effect size. There was virtually no between-study heterogeneity and no sign of publication bias.
·        Fluency: Best explained in terms of errors that interfere with this quality, such as false starts, repeating words or sentences, and abandoning sentences without completing them. A meta-analysis of four studies with 220 participants found no difference in fluency between youths with ADHD and their typically developing peers.
·        Production: This is a measure of output -overall length of the story, number of sentences, number of words. After adjusting for evidence of publication bias, a meta-analysis of twelve studies with 645 participants found no difference here.
·        Syntactic complexity: This includes the extent of vocabulary and the use of proper grammar. A meta-analysis of six studies with 272 participants found youths with ADHD displayed less syntactic complexity than their typically developing peers, with a small-to-medium effect size. There was virtually no between-study heterogeneity and no sign of publication bi
·        Internal state language: References to perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. There were only two studies with 130 participants, so no meta-analysis was performed.

The authors concluded, "the results from the current meta-analysis suggest that children with ADHD have impairments in their narrative language. In particular, children with ADHD produce narratives that are less coherent, less cohesive, less syntactically complex, and include more disruptive errors than typically developing children do."

December 4, 2023

Sex Differences in ADHD Symptoms and Related Cognitive Deficits in Youths

Sex Differences in ADHD Symptoms and Related Cognitive Deficits in Youths

To what extent does sex matter in the expression of ADHD symptoms and associated cognitive deficits among youths with ADHD?

A recently published meta-analysis of 54 studies by a Canadian team of researchers at the University of Quebec at Montreal suggests it makes little to no difference. A meta-analysis of 26 studies with over 5,900 youths found no significant difference in inattention symptoms, and a meta-analysis of 24 studies with over 5,500 youths likewise found no difference in hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms. Separating out hyperactivity and impulsivity made no difference.

Given these results, it's no surprise that a meta-analysis of 15 studies with over 3,500 youths again found no significant divergence between the sexes for total ADHD symptoms. Parents and teachers differed, however, in their ratings of symptoms. Whereas parents observed no differences, teachers reported boys had slightly more inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behaviors than girls. Turning to cognitive functions, a series of meta-analyses found no significant sex differences for interference control, working memory, and planning scores. But boys performed slightly worse on inhibition and motor response inhibition. While the raw data also showed boys slightly under-performing girls on cognitive flexibility, strong evidence of publication bias made this unreliable.

The team also compared youths with ADHD and youths without ADHD. Both for females and for males, those differences in ADHD symptoms were - as would be expected - extremely large, whether for total symptoms, inattention, or hyperactivity-impulsivity. All cognitive function scores were moderately better for normally developing boys compared with boys with ADHD, and for normally developing girls compared with girls with ADHD. Yet once again, when comparing these effect sizes between girls and boys, there were no significant differences for any of the symptom and cognitive function effects.

"In other words," the authors wrote, "boys and girls with ADHD presented significantly more primary symptoms and executive and attention deficits than did their peers without ADHD, and effect sizes were not significantly different between the sexes." They concluded, "girls with ADHD do not differ from boys with ADHD in many domains of cognitive functioning, and they have significantly more severe difficulties across the executive and attentional functions measured relative to girls without ADHD. This meta-analysis is the first to examine sex differences in cognitive flexibility, working memory, and planning."

December 11, 2023

Exploring The Long-term Effects of Treating ADHD with Methylphenidate

Are there adverse effects to long-term treatment of ADHD with methylphenidate?

Although this review highlights the need for further research, it also upholds previous studies which support Methylphenidate as a safe and effective ADHD medication.


Methylphenidate (MPH) is one of the most widely-prescribed medications for children. Given that ADHD frequently persists over a large part of an individual’s lifespan, any side effects of medication initiated during childhood may well be compounded over time. With funding from the European Union, a recently released review of the evidence looked for possible adverse neurological and psychiatric outcomes.

From the outset, the international team recognized a challenge: “ADHD severity may be an important potential confounder, as it may be associated with both the need for long-term MPH therapy and high levels of underlying neuropsychiatric comorbidity.” Their searches found a highly heterogeneous evidence base, which made meta-analysis inadvisable. For example, only 25 of 39 group studies reported the presence or absence of comorbid psychiatric conditions; even among those, only one excluded participants with comorbidities. Moreover in only 24 of 67 studies was the type of MPH used (immediate or extended-release) specified. The team, therefore, focused on laying out an “evidence map” to help determine priorities for further research.

The team found the following breakdown for specific types of adverse events:

·  Low mood/depression. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. Two large cohort studies, one with over 2,300 participants, and the other with 142,000, favored MPH over the non-stimulant atomoxetine. But many other studies, including a randomized controlled trial (RCT), had unclear results. Conclusion: “the evidence base regarding mood outcomes from long-term MPH treatment is relatively strong, includes two well-powered comparative studies, and tends to favor MPH.”

·  Anxiety. Here again, all three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. But only two of seven comparative studies favored MPH, with the other five having unclear results. Conclusion: “while the evidence about anxiety as an outcome of long-term MPH treatment tends to favor MPH, the evidence base is relatively weak.”

·   Irritability/emotional reactivity. A large cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “the evidence base  is limited, although it includes one well-powered study that found in favor of MPH over atomoxetine.”

·  Suicidal behavior/ideation. There were no non-comparative studies, but all five comparative studies favored MPH. That included three large cohort studies, with a combined total of over a hundred thousand participants, that favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “the evidence base  is relatively strong, and tends to favor MPH.”

·  Bipolar disorder. A very large cohort study, with well over a quarter-million participants, favored MPH over atomoxetine. A much smaller cohort study comparing MPH with atomoxetine, with less than a tenth the number of participants, pointed toward caution. Conclusion: “the evidence base  is limited and unclear, although it includes two well-powered studies.”

·  Psychosis/psychotic-like symptoms. By far the largest study, with over 145,000 participants, compared MPH with no treatment and pointed toward caution. A cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “These findings indicate that more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD and psychosis, and into whether MPH moderates that risk, as well as research into individual risk factors for MPH-related psychosis in young people with ADHD.”

· Substance use disorders. A cohort study with over 20,000 participants favored MPH over anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and no medication. Other studies looking at dosages and durations of treatment, age at treatment initiation, or comparing with no treatment or “alternative” treatment, all favored MPH except a single study with unclear results. Conclusion: “the evidence base … is relatively strong, includes one well-powered study that compared MPH with antipsychotic and antidepressant treatment, and tends to favor MPH.”

·Tics and other dyskinesias. Of four non-comparative studies, three favored MPH, the other, with the smallest sample size, urged caution. In studies comparing with dexamphetamine, pemoline, Adderall, or no active treatment, three had unclear results and two pointed towards caution. Conclusion: “more research is needed regarding the safety and management of long-term MPH in those with comorbidities or tic disorder.”

·  Seizures or EEG abnormalities. With one exception, the studies had small sample sizes. The largest, with over 2,300 participants, compared MPH with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Two small studies found MPH safe, one had unclear results, and two others pointed towards caution. Conclusion: “While the evidence is limited and unclear, the studies do not indicate evidence for seizures as an AE of MPH treatment in children with no prior history  more research is needed into the safety of long-term MPH in children and young people at risk of seizures.”

·  Sleep Disorders. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe, but the largest cohort study, with over 2,300 participants, clearly favored atomoxetine. Conclusion: “more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD, sleep, and long-term MPH treatment.”

· Other notable psychiatric outcomes. Two non-comparative studies, with 118 and 289 participants, found MPH safe. A cohort study with over 700 participants compared with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Conclusion: “there is limited evidence regarding long-term MPH treatment and other neuropsychiatric outcomes, and that further research may be needed into the relationship between long-term MPH treatment and aggression/hostility.”

Although this landmark review points to several gaps in the evidence base, it mainly supports prior conclusions of the US Food and Drug Administration) and other regulatory agencies (based on short-term randomized controlled trials) that MPH is safe for the treatment of ADHD in children and adults. Given that MPH has been used for ADHD for over fifty years and that the FDA monitors the emergence of rare adverse events, patients, parents, and prescribers can feel confident that the medication is safe when used as prescribed.

September 6, 2021

Exploring The Long-term Effects of Treating ADHD with Methylphenidate

Are there adverse effects to long-term treatment of ADHD with methylphenidate?

Methylphenidate (MPH) is one of the most widely-prescribed medications for children. Given that ADHD frequently persists over a large part of an individual's lifespan, any side effects of medication initiated during childhood may well be compounded over time. With funding from the European Union, a recently released review of the evidence looked for possible adverse neurological and psychiatric outcomes.

From the outset, the international team recognized a challenge: ADHD severity may be an important potential confounder, as it may be associated with both the need for long-term MPH therapy and high levels of underlying neuropsychiatric comorbidity. Their searches found a highly heterogeneous evidence base, which made meta-analysis inadvisable. For example, only 25 of 39 group studies reported the presence or absence of comorbid psychiatric conditions, and even among those, only one excluded participants with comorbidities. Moreover, in only 24 of 67 studies was the type of MPH used (immediate or extended-release) specified. The team, therefore, focused on laying out an evidence map to help determine priorities for further research.

The team found the following breakdown for specific types of adverse events:

·        Low mood/depression. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. Two large cohort studies, one with over 2,300 participants, and the other with 142,000, favored MPH over the non-stimulant atomoxetine. But many other studies, including a randomized controlled trial (RCT), had unclear results. Conclusion: the evidence base regarding mood outcomes from long-term MPH treatment is relatively strong, includes two well-powered comparative studies, and tends to favor MPH.

·        Anxiety. Here again, all three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. But only two of seven comparative studies favored MPH, with the other five having unclear results. Conclusion: while the evidence about anxiety as an outcome of long-term MPH treatment tends to favor MPH, the evidence base is relatively weak.

·        Irritability/emotional reactivity. A large cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: the evidence base is limited, although it includes one well-powered study that found in favor of MPH over atomoxetine.

·        Suicidal behavior/ideation. There were no non-comparative studies, but all five comparative studies favored MPH. That included three large cohort studies, with a combined total of over a hundred thousand participants, that favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: the evidence base is relatively strong, and tends to favor MPH.

·        Bipolar disorder. A very large cohort study, with well over a quarter-million participants, favored MPH over atomoxetine. A much smaller cohort study comparing MPH with atomoxetine, with less than a tenth the number of participants, pointed toward caution. Conclusion: the evidence base is limited and unclear, although it includes two well-powered studies.

·        Psychosis/psychotic-like symptoms. By far the largest study, with over 145,000 participants, compared MPH with no treatment, and pointed toward caution. A cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: These findings indicate that more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD and psychosis, and into whether MPH moderates that risk, as well as research into individual risk factors for MPH-related psychosis in young people with ADHD.

·        Substance use disorders. A cohort study with over 20,000 participants favored MPH over anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and no medication. Other studies looking at dosages and durations of treatment, age at treatment initiation, or comparing with no treatment or alternative treatment, all favored MPH except a single study with unclear results. Conclusion: the evidence base is relatively strong, includes one well-powered study that compared MPH with antipsychotic and antidepressant treatment, and tends to favor MPH.

·        Tics and other dyskinetic. Of four non-comparative studies, three favored MPH, the other, with the smallest sample size, urged caution. In studies comparing with dexamphetamine, pemoline, Adderall, or no active treatment, three had unclear results and two pointed towards caution. Conclusion: more research is needed regarding the safety and management of long-term MPH in those with comorbidities or tic disorder.

·        Seizuresor EEG abnormalities. With one exception, the studies had small sample sizes. The largest, with over 2,300 participants, compared MPH with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Two small studies found MPH safe, one had unclear results, and two others pointed towards caution. Conclusion: While the evidence is limited and unclear, the studies do not indicate evidence for seizures as an AE of MPH treatment in children with no prior history more research is needed into the safety of long-term MPH in children and young people at risk of seizures.

·        Sleep Disorders. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe, but the largest cohort study, with over 2,300 participants, clearly favored atomoxetine. Conclusion: more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD, sleep, and long-term MPH treatment.

·        Other notable psychiatric outcomes. Two noncomparative studies, with 118 and 289participants, found MPH safe. A cohort study with over 700 participants compared with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Conclusion: there is limited evidence regarding long-term MPH treatment and another neuropsychiatric outcome, and that further research may be needed into the relationship between long-term MPH treatment and aggression/hostility.

Although this landmark review points to several gaps sins in the evidence base, it mainly supports prior conclusions of the US Food antidrug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies (based on short-term randomized controlled trials) that MPH is safe for the treatment of ADHD in children and adults.  Given that MPH has been used for ADHD for over fifty years and that the FDA monitors the emergence of rare adverse events, patients, parents, and prescribers can feel confident that the medication is safe when used as prescribed.

August 25, 2021

Driving, Safety, and ADHD

How to Improve Driving Safety for Teens and Adults With ADHD

Drivers with ADHD are far more likely to be involved in crashes, to be at fault in crashes, to be in severe crashes, and to be killed in crashes. The more severe the ADHD symptoms, the higher the risk. Moreover, ADHD is often accompanied by comorbid conditions such as oppositional-defiant disorder, depression, and anxiety that further increase the risk.

What can be done to reduce this risk? A group of experts has offered the following consensus recommendations:

·        Use stimulant medications. While there is no reliable evidence on whether-stimulant medications are of any benefit for driving, there is solid evidence that stimulant medications are effective in reducing risk. But there is also a “rebound effect” in many individuals after the medication wears off, in which performance becomes worse than it had been before medication. It is therefore important to time the taking of medication so that its period of effectiveness corresponds with driving times. If one has to drive right after waking up, it makes sense to take a rapid-acting form. The same holds for late-night driving that may require a quick boost.
·        Use a stick shift vehicle wherever possible. Stick shifts make drivers pay closer attention than automatic transmissions. The benefits of alertness are most notable in city traffic. But using a stick shift is far less beneficial in highway driving, where shifting is less frequent.
·        Avoid cruise control. Highways can be monotonous, making drivers more prone to boredom and distraction. That is even more true for those with ADHD, so it is best to keep cruise control turned off.
·        Avoid alcohol. Drinking and driving is a bad idea for everyone, but, once again, it’s even worse for those with ADHD. Parents should consider the no-questions-asked policy of either picking up their teenager anytime and anywhere or setting up an account with a ride-sharing service.
·        Place the smartphone out of reach and hearing. Cell phone use is as about as likely to impair as alcohol. Hands-free devices only reduce this risk moderately, because they continue to distract. Texting can be deadly. Sending a short text or emoticon can be the equivalent of driving 100 yards with one’s eyes closed. Either turn on Do Not Disturb mode or, for even greater effectiveness, place the smartphone in the trunk.
·        Make use of automotive performance monitors. These can keep track of maximum speeds and sudden acceleration and braking, to verify that a teenager is not engaging in risky behaviors.
·        Take advantage of “graduated driver’s licensing laws” wherever available. These laws forbid the presence of peers in the vehicle for the first several (for example, six) months of driving. Parents can extend that period for teenagers with ADHD, or set it as a condition in states that lack such laws.
·        Encourage practicing after obtaining a learner’s permit. Teenagers with ADHD generally require more practice than those without. A “pre-drive checklist” can be a good place to start. For example: check the gas, check the mirrors, make sure the view through the windows is unobstructed, put your cell phone in Do not disturb mode and place it out of reach, put on a seatbelt, and scan for obstacles.
·        Consider outsourcing. Look for a driving school with a professional to teach good driving skills and habits.

Experts do not agree on whether to delay licensing for those with ADHD. On the one hand, teenagers with ADHD are 3-4 years behind in the development of brain areas responsible for executive functions that help control impulses and better guide behavior. Delaying licensing can reduce risk by about 20 percent. On the other hand, teens with ADHD are more likely to drive without a license, and no one wants to encourage that, however inadvertently. Moreover, graduated driver’s licensing laws only have a legal effect on teens who get their licenses at the customary age.

August 13, 2021

How Extensive Is Perceived Discrimination Among Adults With ADHD?

How extensive is perceived discrimination among adults with ADHD?

An international team of mental health professionals used a nationally representative sample of English adults over age 16 to explore this question. Of 13,671 households selected, 7,461 were a little more than half participated.

Participants used the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) Screener to assess symptoms of ADHD on a scale ranging from 0 to 24. Those scoring ≥ 14 were considered as having high levels of ADHD symptoms. They also responded to a computer-assisted self-interview that asked, "Have you been unfairly treated in the last 12 months … because of your mental health," requiring a yes or no answer.

The raw data showed an exponential relationship between levels of ADHD symptoms and mental health discrimination. Respondents scoring0-9 on the ASRS reported negligible discrimination (prevalence of 0.3%).  Among those scoring 10-13, the prevalence was 2.3%, rising to 5.5% of those with scores in the 14-17 range, and 18.8% among those in the 18-24 range.

After adjusting for sociodemographic variables (sex, age, ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, and income), those with high levels of ADHD symptoms were nearly 10 times more likely to have experienced discrimination than others.  After adjusting for other psychopathology and stressful life events, this increased risk fell to 2.8.

The authors concluded, "This is an important finding given that mental health discrimination has been associated with detrimental consequences in individuals with mental health disorders and therefore might also be a factor in the negative outcomes that have been noted in adults with ADHD/ADHD symptomatology. As ADHD continues to be underdiagnosed and untreated in adults, the results of this study highlight the importance of identifying and treating these individuals and suggest that interventions to inform the public about ADHD may be important for reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with this condition."

August 11, 2021

New Insights Into The Brains of People Living with ADHD and ADHD Symptoms

New insights into the brains of people living with ADHD and those with ADHD symptoms.

In this study, researchers found subtle differences in the cortex of the brains of children with ADHD.

The ENIGMA-ADHD Working Group published a second large study on the brains of people with ADHD in the American Journal of Psychiatry this month. In this second study, the focus was on the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain.

 ADHD symptoms include inattention and/or hyperactivity and acting impulsively. The disorder affects more than one in twenty (5.3%) children, and two-thirds of those diagnosed continue to experience symptoms as adults.
In this study, researchers found subtle differences in the brain's cortex when they combined brain imaging data on almost 4,000 participants from 37 research groups worldwide. The differences were only significant for children and did not hold for adolescents or adults. The childhood effects were most prominent and widespread for the surface area of the cortex. More focal changes were found in the thickness of the cortex. All differences were subtle and detected only at a group level, and thus these brain images cannot be used to diagnose ADHD or guide its treatment.


These subtle differences in the brain's cortex were not limited to people with the clinical diagnosis of ADHD: they were also present - in a less marked form - in youth with some ADHD symptoms. This second finding results from a collaboration between the ENIGMA-ADHD Working Group and the Generation Study from Rotterdam, which has brain images of, 2700 children aged 9-11 years from the general population. The researchers found more symptoms of inattention to be associated with a decrease in cortical surface area. Furthermore, siblings of those with ADHD showed changes to their cortical surface area that resembled their affected sibling. This suggests that familial factors such as genetics or shared environment may play a role in brain cortical characteristics.


This is the largest study to date to look at the cortex of people with ADHD. It included 2246 people with a diagnosis of ADHD and 1713 people without, aged between 4 and 63 years old. This is the second study published by the ENIGMA-ADHD Working Group; the first examined structures that are deep in the brain. The ADHD Working Group is one of over 50 working groups of the ENIGMA Consortium, in which international researchers pull together to understand the brain alterations associated with different disorders and the role of genetic and environmental factors in those alterations.


The authors say the findings could help improve understanding of the disorder. 'We identify cortical differences that are consistently associated with ADHD, by combining data from many research groups internationally. We find that the differences extend beyond narrowly-defined clinical diagnoses and are seen, in a less marked manner, in those with some ADHD symptoms and unaffected siblings of people with ADHD. This finding supports the idea that the symptoms underlying ADHD may be a continuous trait in the population, which has already been reported by other behavioral and genetic studies.'. In the future, the ADHD Working Group hopes to look at additional key features in the brain - such as the structural connections between brain areas - and to increase the representation of adults affected by ADHD, on whom limited research has been performed to date.

August 1, 2021

Are there Positive Aspects to ADHD?

Are there Positive Aspects to ADHD?

What are we to make of adults who exhibit the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, but are nevertheless high-functioning and successful? A trio of British investigators has just published six case studies that explore this question.  It would have been better for them to have conducted a much larger, controlled research study but, in the absence of such data in the area, these case studies are intriguing and may help guide more informative research.
The authors recruited six successful men between the ages of30 and 65 from a National Health Service tertiary service in London. Four were in long-term relationships, with children. All had good jobs.


In open-ended taped interviews of up to an hour in length, each was asked three questions:
1.     What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of having ADHD?
2.     Please describe a time when you felt that your ADHD helped you to achieve something?
3.     What aspects of your ADHD would you miss if it went away?

Hyper-focus in ADHD is generally considered a deficit, inset-shifting, and task-switching. But the authors report that participants associated it with productivity. One said, "I think the energy that the ADHD brain seems to have....it's unfocused, quite scattered, chaotic and a bit random...but give that brain something that you can tune into, and it's your interest, then all that random stuff just goes boom... I get this incredible intense concentration and that's great for work."
Participants also saw advantages in divergent thinking, with one stating, "I'm an artist.... a creative type... a Bohemian.... you are most likely to be a creative person if you are a divergent thinker....and not convergent... I am very creative and that's through and through... I'm a fine art graduate, a musician, a published poet, an entrepreneur, a performer."
All the participants reported being seen as nonconformists. Depending on a viewpoint, that can be seen as either detrimental or advantageous.
Impulsivity is a core symptom of ADHD. Participants however related it to bravery, and more specifically adventurousness, spontaneity, and thrill-seeking. One said, "thrill-seeking is an ADHD thing... I can list in my life have done white water rafting, bungee jumping, hand-glider pilot ... I have done a lot in my life and achieved a lot and experienced a lot...... Furthermore, I would see a lot of that as being quite positive, and a lot of that is ADHD drive."
Another common theme was high energy and "spirit." One participant said, "I've got all this energy.... a lot of energy.... whatever it's to do with.... nature/nurture/spiritual stuff."
These testimonials are useful as a check on the usual narrative of impairment. ADHD does not predestine all it afflicts to an unfulfilling life. Many, often assisted by medication, still lead exciting, successful, rewarding lives.   Yet, we must be cautious in concluding that these individuals were successful because of their ADHD.  It is possible, even likely, that they had other strengths such as high intelligence that compensated for their ADHD symptoms.  We can not know from this report if their lives had been even more fulfilling or successful in the absence of ADHD.   See, for example, my blog about highly intelligent people with ADHD:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141126141502-65669938-smart-people-can-have-adhd-too/.
While the authors concede that "generalizing the findings of this study is not easy to do," they inexplicably "also argue that the positive aspects we found are relevant to other adults with ADHD regardless of sample size, age, gender or ethnicity."   It is not possible to draw such a definitive conclusion without a much larger sample.
On a hopeful note, they conclude, "This is a study that reaches out to people with lived experience of ADHD: service users, patients, family members, carers, partners, to say that not all symptoms of ADHD are maleficent. Recovery, high functionality, and flourishing with ADHD are possible. Too often people with lived experience hear about ADHD deficits, functional impairments, and associations with substance misuse, criminality, or other disadvantages on almost every level of life (school, work, relationships). ... This study affirms the positive human qualities, assets, and attributes in ADHD that can promote and sustain high functioning and flourishing."   I fully endorse the idea that those with ADHD can have wonderful lives, especially if they receive appropriate treatment, both medical and psychological.

July 20, 2021

Immediate and Long-term Effects of Exercise on ADHD Symptoms and Cognition

Immediate and Longer-term Effects of Exercise on ADHD Symptoms and Cognition

A team of Spanish researchers has published a systematic review of 16 studies with a total of 728 participants exploring the effects of physical exercise on children and adolescents with ADHD. Fourteen studies were judged to be of high quality, and two of medium quality.

Seven studies looked at the acute effects of exercise on eight to twelve-year-old youths with ADHD. Acute means that the effects were measured immediately after periods of exercise lasting up to 30 minutes. Five studies used treadmills and two used stationary bicycles, for periods of five to 30 minutes. Three studies "showed a significant increase in the speed of reaction and precision of response after an intervention of 20-30 min, but at moderate intensity (50-75%)." Another study, however, found no improvement in mathematical problem-solving after 25 minutes using a stationary bicycle at low (40-50%) or moderate intensity (65-75%). The three others found improvements in executive functioning, planning, and organization in children after 20- to 30-minute exercise sessions.

Nine studies examined longer-term effects, following regular exercise over many weeks. One reported that twenty consecutive weekly yoga sessions improved attention. Another found that moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) led to improved behavior beginning in the third week, and improved motor, emotional and attentional control, by the end of five weeks. A third study reported that eight weeks of starting the school day with 30 minutes of physical activity led to improvement in Connor's ADHD scores, oppositional scores, and response inhibition. Another study found that twelve weeks of aerobic activity led to declines in bad mood and inattention. Yet another reported that thrice-weekly 45-minute sessions of MVPA over ten weeks improved not only muscle strength and motor skills, but also attention, response inhibition, and information processing.

Two seventy-minute table tennis per week over twelve weeks improved executive functioning and planning, in addition to locomotor and object control skills.

Two studies found a significant increase in brain activity. One involved two hour-long sessions of rowing per week for eight weeks, the other three 90-minute land-based sessions per week for six weeks. Both studies measured higher activation of the right frontal and right temporal lobes in children, and lower theta/alpha ratios in male adolescents.

All 16 studies found positive effects on cognition. Five of the nine longer-term studies found positive effects on behavior. No study found any negative effects. The authors of the review concluded that physical activity "improves executive functions, increases attention, contributes to greater planning capacity and processing speed and working memory, improves the behavior of students with ADHD in the learning context, and consequently improves academic performance." Although the data are limited by a lack of appropriate controls, they suggest that, in addition to the well-known positive effects of physical activity, one may expect to see improvements in ADHD symptoms and associated features, especially for periods of sustained exercise.

July 18, 2021

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Adults with ADHD

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Adults with ADHD

A Dutch study compared the efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combined with treatment as usual (TAU), with TAU-only as the control group. MBCT consisted of an eight-week group therapy consisting of meditation exercises (body scan, sitting meditation, mindful movement), psychoeducation about ADHD, and group exercises. TAU consisted of usual treatment in the Netherlands, including medications and other psychological treatments. Sixty individuals were randomly assigned to each group. MBCT was taught in subgroups of 8 to 12 individuals. Patients assigned to TAU were not brought together in small groups. Baseline demographic and clinical characteristics were closely matched for both groups.

Outcomes were evaluated at the start, immediately following treatment, and again after 3 and 6 months using well-validated rating scales. Following treatment, the MBCT + TAU group outperformed the TAU group by an average of 3.4points on the Conner's Adult Rating Scale, corresponding to a standardized mean difference of .41. Thirty-one percent of the MBCT + TAU group made significant gains, versus 5% of the TAU group. 27% of MBCT +TAU patients scored a symptom reduction of at least 30 percent, as opposed to only 4% of TAU patients. Three and six-month follow-up effects were stable, with an effect size of .43.

The authors concluded, "that MBCT has significant benefits to adults with ADHD up to 6 months after post-treatment, about both ADHD symptoms and positive outcomes." Yet in their section on limitations, they overlook a potentially important one. There was no active placebo control. Those who were undergoing TAU-only were aware that they were not doing anything different from what they had been doing before the study. Hence, no substantial placebo response would be expected from this group during the intervention period (post-treatment they were offered an opportunity to undergo MBCT). Moreover, MBCT + TAU participants were gathered into small groups, whereas TAU participants were not. We, therefore, have no way of knowing what effect group interaction had on the outcomes because it was not controlled for. So, although these results are intriguing and suggest that further research is worthwhile, the work is not sufficiently rigorous to definitively conclude that MBCT should be prescribed for adults with ADHD.

June 8, 2021

Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy Effective for Older Adults with ADHD?

Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy Effective for Older Adults with ADHD?

Though there have been numerous studies on the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for ADHD symptoms in children, adolescents, and adults, few have examined efficacy among adults over 50. A new study begins to fill that void.

Psychiatric researchers from the New York University School of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Pfizer randomly assigned 88 adults diagnosed with elevated levels of ADHD to one of two groups. The first group received 12 weeks of CBT targeting executive dysfunction - a deficiency in the ability to properly analyze, plan, organize, schedule, and complete tasks. The second group was assigned to a support group, intended to serve as a control for any effects arising from participating in group therapy. Each group was split into subgroups of six to eight participants. One of the CBT subgroups was run concurrently with one of the support-only subgroups and matched on the percent receiving ADHD medications.

Outcomes were obtained for 26 adults aged 50 or older (12 in CBT and 14 in support) and compared with 55 younger adults (29 in CBT and 26 in support). The mean age of the younger group was 35 and of the older group 56. Roughly half of the older group, and 3/5ths of the younger group, were on medication. Independent("blinded") clinicians rated symptoms of ADHD before and after treatment.

In the blind structured interview, both inattentive scores and executive function scores improved significantly and almost identically for both older and younger adults following CBT. When compared with the controls(support groups), however, there was a marked divergence. In younger adults, CBT groups significantly outperformed support groups, with mean relative score improvements of 3.7 for inattentive symptoms and 2.9 for executive functioning. In older adults, however, the relative score improvements were only 1.1 and0.9 and were not statistically significant.

Given the non-significant improvements over placebo, the authors' conclusion that "The results provide preliminary evidence that CBT is an effective intervention for older adults with ADHD" is premature. As they note, a similar large placebo effect was seen in adults over 50 in a meta-analysis of CBT for depression, rendering the outcomes non-significant. Perhaps structured human contact is the key ingredient in this age group. It may also be, as suggested by the positive relative gains on six of seven measures, that CBT has a small net benefit over placebo, which cannot be validated with such a small sample size. Awaiting results from studies with larger sample sizes, it is, for now, impossible to reach any definitive conclusions about the efficacy of CBT for treating adults over 50.

June 6, 2021

Digital Media Use and ADHD

Digital Media Use and ADHD

A two-year study examined the effect of digital media use on ADHD symptoms in over 2500 adolescents. An earlier meta-analysis found that traditional media use (TV and video console games) was modestly associated with ADHD-like behaviors (Nikkelen et al 2014). The current study extends the examination to a large sample, with modern digital media delivery of high-intensity stimuli, including mobile platforms.

The authors used the Current Symptom Self-Report Scale (Barkley R 1998) to establish ADHD symptoms at baseline and six-month assessments over 24 months. None of the subjects reported having ADHD, study entry. Subjects were considered to be ADHD symptom-positive (the primary binary outcome) if they had greater than or equal to six inattentive and/or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms rated on this frequency-based scale (0-3). Modern digital media use was surveyed on a frequency basis for 14 media activities(including checking social media sites, texting, browsing, downloading or streaming music, posting pictures, online chatting, playing games, online shopping, and video chatting). The most common media activity was the high-frequency checking of social media. Of note, high-frequency engagement in each of the digital media activities was significantly, but moderately, associated with having ADHD symptoms at each six-month follow-up (OR 1.10), even after adjusting for covariates. High-frequency media use at baseline seemed to be associated with the development of ADHD symptoms.

Among the 495 students who reported no high-frequency media use at baseline, 4.6% met ADHD symptom criteria at follow-up. Among 114 students scoring 7 for high-frequency media use at baseline, 9.5% met the symptoms criteria. For the 51 students with a score of 14 for high-frequency media use at baseline, the rate was 10.5% (both comparisons were statistically significant).

This study is important in that it notes that an association between high-frequency digital media use (in current platforms and modalities) may be associated with the development of ADHD-like symptoms. A significant limitation of the study, as noted by the authors, is that ADHD-like symptoms do not establish a diagnosis of ADHD and do not assess impairment; therefore, these results must be interpreted with some caution. It does highlight that even with the current level of understanding, it might be prudent for clinicians to recommend limiting high-frequency media use for adolescent patients.

October 9, 2023

Can Computers Train the Brain to Cure ADHD?

Can Computers Train the Brain to Cure ADHD?

It sounds like science fiction, but scientists have been testing computerized methods to train the brains of ADHD people to reduce both ADHD symptoms and cognitive deficits such as difficulties with memory or attention.  

Two main approaches have been used: cognitive training and neurofeedback. Cognitive training methods ask patients to practice tasks aimed at teaching specific skills, such as retaining information in memory or inhibiting impulsive responses.

Currently, results from ADHD brain studies suggest that the ADHD brain is not very different from the non-ADHD brain, but that ADHD leads to small differences in the structure, organization, and functioning of the brain. The idea behind cognitive training is that the brain can be reorganized to accomplish tasks through a structured learning process. Cognitive retraining helps people who have suffered brain damage, so it was logical to think it might help the types of brain differences seen in ADHD people. Several software packages have been created to deliver cognitive training sessions to ADHD people.

Neurofeedback was applied to ADHD after it had been observed, in many studies, that people with ADHD have unusual brain waves as measured by the electroencephalogram (EEG). We believe that these unusual brain waves are caused by the different ways that the ADHD brain processes information. Because these differences lead to problems with memory, attention, inhibiting responses, and other areas of cognition and behavior, it was believed that normalizing the brain waves might reduce ADHD symptoms.

In a neurofeedback session, patients sit with a computer that reads their brain waves via wires connected to their heads. The patient is asked to do a task on the computer that is known to produce a specific type of brain wave.  The computer gives feedback via sound or a visual on the computer screen that tells the patient how 'normal' their brainwaves are. By modifying their behavior, patients learn to change their brain waves. The method is called neurofeedback because it gives patients direct feedback about how their brains are processing information.

Both cognitive training and neurofeedback have been extensively studied. If you've been reading my blogs about ADHD, you know that I play by the rules of evidence-based medicine. My view is that the only way to be sure that a treatment works is to see what researchers have published in scientific journals. The highest level of evidence is a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. This ensures that many rigorous studies have been conducted and summarized with a sophisticated mathematical method.  

Although both cognitive training and neurofeedback are rational methods based on good science, meta-analyses suggest that they do not help reduce ADHD symptoms. They may be helpful for specific problems, such as problems with memory, but more work is needed to be certain if that is true. The future may bring better news about these methods if they are modified and become more effective. You can learn more about non-pharmacologic treatment for ADHD from a book I recently edited: Faraone, S. V. &Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.

October 5, 2023

More Data About Gifted People with ADHD

More Data About Gifted People with ADHD

I recently came across a paper from Tom Brown that adds to the growing scientific literature about smart people with ADHD. Dr. Brown's study measured executive functions in 157 ADHD adults with an intelligence quotient (IQ) in the top 9 percent of the population. The executive functions of the brain regulate cognitive processes in a manner that allows for the effective planning and execution of behaviors.

We know from many studies that both children and ADHD have deficits in executive functions, which impair their ability to manage time and keep themselves organized. Dr. Brown extends that literature by showing that three out of four ADHD adults with high IQ scores were significantly impaired on tests of executive functioning. They had problems in many areas: working memory, processing speed, and auditory-verbal working memory relative.

The lesson from this literature is clear. Smart people can have ADHD. Their high IQs will help them do better than the average person with ADHD, but they may not achieve their potential without appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

For more evidence-based info about adult ADHD, go to www.adhdinadults.com.

May 9, 2021

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Fact vs. Fiction

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Fact vs. Fiction

Many myths have been manufactured about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Facts that are clear and compelling to most scientists and doctors have been distorted or discarded from popular media discussions of the disorder.   Sometimes, the popular media seems motivated by the maxim "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."  That's fine for storytellers, but it is not acceptable for serious and useful discussions about ADHD.

Myths about ADHD are easy to find.  These myths have confused patients and parents and undermined the ability of professionals to appropriately treat the disorder.   When patients or parents get the idea that the diagnosis of ADHD is a subjective invention of doctors, or that ADHD medications cause drug abuse, that makes it less likely they will seek treatment and will increase their chances of having adverse outcomes. 

Fortunately, as John Adams famously said of the Boston Massacre, "Facts are stubborn things."  And science is a stubborn enterprise; it does not tolerate shoddy research or opinions not supported by fact.   ADHD scientists have addressed many of the myths about the disorder in the International Consensus Statement on ADHD, a published summary of scientific facts about ADHD endorsed by 75 international ADHD scientists in2002.  The statement describes evidence for the validity of ADHD, the existence of genetic and neurobiological causes for the disorder, and the range and severity of impairments caused by the disorder.   

The Statement makes several key points:

  • The     U.S. Surgeon General, the American Medical Association, the American     Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the     American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize ADHD as a valid disorder.
  • ADHD     involves a serious deficiency in a set of psychological abilities, and these deficiencies pose serious harm to most individuals possessing the disorder.
  • Many studies show that the psychological deficits in people with ADHD are associated with abnormalities in several specific brain regions.
  • The genetic contribution to ADHD is routinely found to be among the highest for any psychiatric disorder.
  • ADHD     is not a benign disorder. For those it afflicts, it can cause devastating problems.

The facts about ADHD will prevail if you take the time to learn about them. This can be difficult when faced with a media blitz of information and misinformation about the disorder. In future blogs, I'll separate the fact from the fiction by addressing several popular myths about ADHD.

April 25, 2021

How do Stimulants Modulate the Brain to Improve ADHD Symptoms?

How do Stimulants Modulate the Brain to Improve ADHD Symptoms?

The stimulants methylphenidate and amphetamine are well known for their efficacy in treating symptoms of ADHD in both youth and adults.   Although these medications have been used for several decades, relatively little is known about the mechanisms of action that lead to their therapeutic effect.    

New data about the mechanism comes from a meta-analysis by Katya Rubia and colleagues. They analyzed 14 functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data sets comprising 212 youth with ADHD.  Each of these data sets assessed the short-term effects of stimulants on fMRI-assessed brain activations. In the fMRI paradigm, ADHD and control participants are asked to do a neurocognitive task while the activity of their brains is being measured. Dr. Rubia and colleagues analyzed data from fMRI assessments of time discrimination, inhibition, and working memory, each of which is known to be deficient in ADHD patients.    

The meta-analysis found that the most consistent brain activations were seen in a region comprising the right inferior frontal cortex(IFC) and insula, even when the analysis was limited to previously medication-naïve patients. The implicated region of the brain is known to mediate cognitive control, time estimation, and attention.  Dr.Rubia also notes that other studies show that the IFC/Insula is needed for updating information and allocating attention to relevant stimuli.  

Another region implicate by the meta-analysis was the right putamen, a region that is rich in dopamine transporters. This finding is consistent with the fact that the dopamine transporter is the main target of stimulant medications.    

What is the potential clinical implication of these findings?  As Dr. Rubia and colleagues note, it is possible that the fMRI anomalies they identified could be used as a biomarker for ADHD or a biomarker to select patients who should respond optimally to stimulant medication. Although fMRI cannot be used as a clinical tool at this time, research of this sort is opening up new horizons for how we understand the etiology of ADHD and the mechanisms whereby medications exert their effects.

April 21, 2021

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD: What is it? Does it work?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD: What is it? Does it work?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a one-to-one therapy, for adolescents or adults, where a therapist teaches an ADHD patient how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interrelated and how each of these elements affects the others.  CBT emphasizes cognition or thinking because a major goal of this therapy is to help patients identify thinking patterns that lead to problem behaviors.  For example, the therapist might discover that the patient frequently has negative automatic thoughts such as "I'm stupid" in challenging situations. We call the thought 'automatic' because it invades the patient's consciousness without any effort. Thinking "I'm stupid" can cause anxiety and depression, which leads to failure. Thus, stopping the automatic thought will modify this chain of events and, hopefully, improve the outcome from failure to success.

CBT also educates patients about their ADHD and how it affects them in important daily activities.


For example, most ADHD patients need help with activity schedules, socializing, organizing their workspace, and controlling their distractibility. By teaching specific cognitive and behavioral skills, the therapist helps the patient deal with their ADHD symptoms productively. For example, some ADHD patients are very impulsive when conversing with others. They don't wait their turn during conversations and may blurt out irrelevant ideas. This can be annoying to others, especially in the context of school or business relationships. The CBT therapist helps the patient identify these behaviors and creates strategies for avoiding them.

So, does CBT work for ADHD? The evidence base is small, but when CBT has been used for adult ADHD, it has produced positive results in well-designed studies.   These studies typically compare patients taking ADHD medications with those taking ADHD medications and receiving CBT.  

So for now, it is best to consider CBT as an adjunct rather than a replacement for medication. There are even fewer studies of CBT for adolescents with ADHD.  These initial studies also suggest that CBT will be useful for adolescents with ADHD who are also taking ADHD medications.  Some data suggest that CBT can be successfully applied in the classroom, but the evidence base is very small.

How can this information be used by doctors and patients for treatment planning?  Current treatment guidelines suggest starting with an ADHD medication.  After a suitable medication and dose are found, the patient and doctor should determine if any problems remain.  If so, CBT should be considered an adjunct to ADHD medications.

April 19, 2021

Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy Effective for Treating Adult ADHD?

Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy Effective for Treating Adult ADHD?

The term "cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)" refers to a type of talk therapy that seeks to change the way patients think about themselves, their disorder, and the world around them in a manner that will help them overcome symptoms and achieve life goals.

Because CBT is typically administered by a psychologist or other mental health professionals, CBT services are not available in primary care. Nonetheless, it is useful for primary care practitioners to know about CBT so that they can refer appropriately as needed. So, what can we say about the efficacy of CBT for treating adults with ADHD?

Based on a meta-analysis by Young and colleagues, we know for certain that the number of published trials of CBT for adult ADHD is small; only nine trials are available. Five of these compared CBT with waiting list controls; three compared CBT with appropriate placebo control groups. In all of these studies, patients in the CBT and control groups were also being treated with ADHD medications.

Thus, they speak to the efficacy of CBT when given as an adjunctive treatment. The meta-analysis examined the waiting list controlled studies and the placebo-controlled studies separately. For both types of study, the effect of CBT in reducing ADHD symptoms was statistically significant, with a standardized mean effect size of 0.4.

This effect size, albeit modest, is large enough to conclude that CBT will be useful for some patients being treated with ADHD medications. Given these results, a reasonable guideline would be to refer adults with ADHD to a CBT therapist if they are being maintained on an ADHD medication, but that medication is not leading to a complete remission of their symptoms and impairments. So listen to your patients. If, while on an appropriately titrated medication regime, they still complain about unresolved symptoms or impairments, you need to take action.  In some cases, changing their dose or shifting to another medication will be useful. If such approaches fail or are not feasible, you should consider referral to a CBT therapist.

April 17, 2021

A Brief History of ADHD

A Brief History of ADHD

I have too often seen on the Internet or media the statement that ADHD is a recent invention of psychiatrists and/or pharmaceutical companies. Such statements ignore the long history of ADHD that my colleague and I reviewed in our "Primer" about ADHD.  

ADHD has a long history. The first ADHD syndrome was described in a German medical textbook by Weikard in 1775. That's not a typo. The ADHD syndrome had been identified before the birth of the USA. Dr.Weikard did not use the term ADD or ADHD, yet he described a syndrome of hyperactivity and inattention that corresponds to what we call ADHD today.  

ADHD-like syndromes were described in Scotland in 1798 and in France in the late 19th century. The first description of an ADHD-like syndrome in a medical journal was by Dr. George Still in 1901 who described what he called a 'defect of moral control' in The Lancet. The discovery that stimulant drugs are effective in treating ADHD occurred in 1937 when Dr. Charles Bradley discovered that Benzedrine (an amphetamine compound) improved the behavior of children diagnosed with behavioral disorders. In subsequent years, several terms were used to describe children with ADHD symptoms. Examples are Kramer-Pollnow syndrome, minimal brain damage, minimal brain dysfunction, and hyperkinetic reaction.  

,It was not until the 1980s that the term Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) came into widespread use with the publication of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).   During the ensuing decades, several changes were made to the diagnostic criteria and the term ADD was replaced with ADHD so as not to overemphasize either inattention or hyperactivity when diagnosing the disorder. And, as the graphic below describes, these new and better diagnostic criteria led to many breakthroughs in our understanding of the nature of the disorder and the efficacy of treatments. So, if you think that ADHD is an invention of contemporary society, think again. It has been with us for quite some time.

April 11, 2021

Smart People Can Have ADHD Too

Smart People Can Have ADHD Too

We know from many studies that ADHD is associated with a slightly lower intelligence quotient (IQ) and with problems in thinking known as executive function deficits. If that's the case, you might think that people with a high IQ cannot have ADHD.  You would be wrong. Data on groups sometimes mislead us about individuals. Although on average, ADHD people have IQ scores that are about 9 points lower than others, there is a wide spread of IQs in both ADHD and non-ADHD people. So many people with ADHD have higher IQs than those without ADHD and vice-versa. Moreover, studies of people with high IQs support the idea that ADHD can be validly diagnosed among very intelligent individuals.

A series of studies using Antshel and colleagues showed that the clinical profile of high IQ ADHD was very similar to what has been observed for ADHD in general. For example, like their less intelligent counterparts, high IQ ADHD children have an increased risk for mood, anxiety, and disruptive behavior disorders. Children with a high IQ and ADHD showed a pattern of familial transmission as well as cognitive, psychiatric, and behavioral impairments consistent with the diagnosis of ADHD. The degree to which ADHD persisted into adulthood was also similar between the two groups.

In studies of adults with ADHD, the same group concluded that "adults with ADHD and a high IQ display patterns of functional impairments, familiarity and psychiatric co-morbidities that parallel those found in the average-IQ adult ADHD population." Of particular interest, despite their high intelligence, High-IQ adults with ADHD show impaired executive functioning, and their performance on tests of executive functioning predicted life impairments.

Why are these data important? 
Milioni and colleagues argue that among higher IQ adults with ADHD, a higher degree of intellectual efficiency may compensate for deficits in executive functions. This ability to compensate allows them to succeed in many tasks, which otherwise might have been impaired by their ADHD symptoms. But, in many cases, such compensation is not sufficient or is too burdensome. When compensation fails, ADHD symptoms and other impairments emerge. When this occurs later in life, some clinicians are reluctant to diagnose ADHD. Caution is warranted, but clinicians need to know that the diagnosis of ADHD among high IQ is valid.

April 1, 2021

What is Sluggish Cognitive Tempo and is it Relevant to ADHD?

What is Sluggish Cognitive Tempo and is it Relevant to ADHD?

Over the past few decades, a consensus has emerged among psychopathologists that some patients exhibit a well-defined syndrome referred to as sluggish cognitive tempo or SCT.

There are no diagnostic criteria for SCT because it has not yet been accepted as a separate disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. People with SCT are slow-moving, indolent, and mentally muddled. They often appear to be lost in thoughts, daydreaming, drowsy or listless. In reviewing these symptoms and the literature, Barkley suggested that SCT be referred to as Concentration Deficit Disorder (CDD). This term is less pejorative, but is not yet commonly used.

Becker and colleagues recently evaluated the internal and external validity of SCT via a meta-analysis of 73 studies. Internal validity addresses the consistency of SCT symptoms as a measure of an underlying construct. Based on factor analytic studies using more than 19,000 participants, the authors concluded that the items purported to measure SCT are sufficiently correlated with one another to justify the idea that they measure the same underlying construct.

Further support for internal validity was found in studies reporting high test-retest and interrater reliability. As regards ADHD, the authors found that SCT correlated significantly with both inattentive (r = 0.72) and hyperactive-impulsive (r = 0.46) symptoms in adults. The greater correlation with inattentive symptoms makes sense given the nature of SCT symptoms. So these data confirm two key points about SCT: 1) it is associated with ADHD symptoms, and 2) it is a meaningful construct in its own right. Very little is known about the implications of SCT for the treatment of ADHD.  

In a naturalistic study of 88 children and adolescents with ADHD, Ludwig and colleagues examined the effect of SCT on the response of ADHD symptoms to methylphenidate. They found no significant differences in treatment response between subjects with and without SCT. McBurnett and colleagues tested the effects of atomoxetine on SCT in children with ADHD and dyslexia (ADHD+D) or dyslexia only. Atomoxetine treatment led to significant reductions in both ADHD symptoms and SCT outcomes.

Because controlling for changes in ADHD symptoms did not predict changes in SCT outcomes, the authors concluded that change in SCT in response to atomoxetine is mostly independent of change in ADHD. Although these data are preliminary and in need of replication, they do provide some guidance for clinicians dealing with ADHD patients who also have SCT.

March 26, 2021

Exploring The Long-term Effects of Treating ADHD with Methylphenidate

Are there adverse effects to long-term treatment of ADHD with methylphenidate?

Methylphenidate(MPH) is one of the most widely-prescribed medications for children. Given that ADHD frequently persists over a large part of an individual’s lifespan, any side effects of medication initiated during childhood may well be compounded over time. With funding from the European Union, a recently released review of the evidence looked for possible adverse neurological and psychiatric outcomes.

From the outset, the international team recognized a challenge: “ADHD severity may be an important potential confounder, as it may be associated with both the need for long-term MPH therapy and high levels of underlying neuropsychiatric comorbidity.” Their search found a higy heterogeneous evidence base, which made meta-analysis inadvisable. For example, only 25 of 39 groups studies reported the presence or absence of comorbid psychiatric conditions, and even among those, only one excluded participants with comorbidities. Moreover, in only 24 of 67 studies was the type of MPH used (immediate or extended-release)specified. The team, therefore, focused on laying out an “evidence map” to help determine priorities for further research.

The team found the following breakdown for specific types of adverse events:

·      Low mood/depression. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. Two large cohort studies, one with over 2,300 participants, and the other with 142,000, favored MPH over the non-stimulant atomoxetine . But many other studies, including a randomized controlled trial(RCT), had unclear results. Conclusion: “the evidence base regarding mood outcomes from long-term MPH treatment is relatively strong, includes two well-powered comparative studies, and tends to favor MPH.”

·      Anxiety. Here again, all three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. But only two of seven comparative studies favored MPH, with the other five having unclear results. Conclusion: “while the evidence about anxiety as an outcome of long-term MPH treatment tends to favor MPH, the evidence base is relatively weak.”

·      Irritability/emotional reactivity. A large cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine . Conclusion: “the evidence base … is limited, although it includes one well-powered study that found in favor of MPH over atomoxetine.”

·      Suicidal behavior/ideation. There were no non-comparative studies, but all five comparative studies favored MPH. That included three large cohort studies, with a combined total of over a hundred thousand participants, that favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “the evidence base … is relatively strong, and tends to favor MPH.”

·      Bipolar disorder. A very large cohort study, with well over a quarter-million participants, favored MPH over atomoxetine. A much smaller cohort study comparing MPH with atomoxetine , with less than a tenth the number of participants, pointed toward caution. Conclusion: “the evidence base … is limited and unclear, although it includes two well-powered studies.”

·      Psychosis/psychotic-like symptoms. By far the largest study, with over 145,000 participants, compared MPH with no treatment, and pointed toward caution. A cohort study with over 2,300participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “These findings indicate that more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD and psychosis, and into whether MPH moderates that risk, as well as research into individual risk factors for MPH-related psychosis in young people with ADHD.”

·      Substance use disorders. A cohort study with over 20,000 participants favored MPH over anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and no medication. Other studies looking at dosages and durations of treatment, age at treatment initiation, or comparing with no treatment or “alternative” treatment, all favored MPH except a single study with unclear results. Conclusion: “the evidence base … is relatively strong, includes one well-powered study that compared MPH with antipsychotic and antidepressant treatment, and tends to favor MPH.”

·      Tics and other dyskinesias. Of four noncomparative studies, three favored MPH, the other, with the smallest sample size, urged caution. In studies comparing with dexamphetamine, pemoline, Adderall, or no active treatment, three had unclear results and two pointed towards caution. Conclusion: “more research is needed regarding the safety and management of long-term MPH in those with comorbid tics or a tic disorder.”

·      Seizures or EEG abnormalities. With one exception, the studies had small sample sizes. The largest, with over 2,300 participants, compared MPH with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Two small studies found MPH safe, one had unclear results, and two others pointed towards caution. Conclusion: “While the evidence is limited and unclear, the studies do not indicate evidence for seizures as an AE of MPH treatment in children with no prior history … more research is needed into the safety of long-term MPH in children and young people at risk of seizures.”

·      Sleep Disorders. All three noncomparative studies found MPH safe, but the largest cohort study, with over 2,300 participants, clearly favored atomoxetine. Conclusion: “more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD, sleep, and long-term MPH treatment.”

·      Other notable psychiatric outcomes. Two noncomparative studies, with 118 and 289 participants, found MPH safe. A cohort study with over 700 participants compared with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Conclusion: “there is limited evidence regarding long-term MPH treatment and other neuropsychiatric outcomes, and that further research may be needed into the relationship between long-term MPH treatment and aggression/hostility.”

Although this landmark review points to several gaps in the evidence base, it mainly supports prior conclusions of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies (based on short-term randomized controlled trials) that MPH is safe for the treatment of ADHD in children and adults. Given that MPH has been used for ADHD for over fifty years and that the FDA monitors the emergence of rare adverse events, patients, parents and prescribers can feel confident that the medication is safe when used as prescribed.

March 6, 2021

Driving, Safety, and ADHD

How to Improve Driving Safety for Teens and Adults With ADHD

Drivers with ADHD are far more likely to be involved in crashes, to be at fault in crashes,to be in severe crashes, and to be killed in crashes. The more severe the ADHD symptoms, the higher the risk. Moreover, ADHD is often accompanied by comorbid conditions such as oppositional-defiant disorder, depression, and anxiety that further increase the risk.

What can be done to reduce this risk? A group of experts has offered the following consensus recommendations:

·   Use stimulant medications. While there is no reliable evidence on whether non-stimulant medications are of any benefit for driving, there is solid evidence that stimulant medications are effective in reducing risk. But there is also a rebound effect in many individuals after the medication wears off, in which performance actually becomes worse than if had been prior to medication. It is therefore important to time the taking of medication so that its period of effectiveness corresponds with driving times. If one has to drive right after waking up, it makes sense to take a rapid acting form. The same holds for late night driving that may require a quick boost.

·   Use a stick shift vehicle wherever possible. Stick shifts make drivers pay closer attention than automatic transmissions. The benefits in alertness are most notable in city traffic. But using a stick shift is far less beneficial in highway driving, where shifting is less frequent.

·  Avoid cruise control. Highways can be monotonous, making drivers more prone to boredom and distraction. That is even more true for those with ADHD, so it is best to keep cruise control turned off.

·   Avoid alcohol. Drinking and driving is a bad idea for everyone, but, once again, it's even worse for those with ADHD. Parents should consider a no-questions-asked policy of either picking up their teenager anytime and anywhere, or setting up an account with a ride-sharing service.·   Place the smartphone out of reach and hearing. Cell phone use is as about as likely to impair as alcohol. Hands-free devices only reduce this risk moderately, because they continue to distract. Texting can be deadly. Sending a short text or emoticon can be the equivalent of driving 100 yards with one's eyes closed. Either turn on Do Not Disturb mode, or, for even greater effectiveness, place the smart phone in the trunk.

·   Make use of automotive performance monitors. These can keep track of maximum speeds and sudden acceleration and braking, to verify that a teenager is not engaging in risky behaviors.

·   Take advantage of graduated driver's licensing laws wherever available. These laws forbid the presence of peers in the vehicle for the first several (for example, six) months of driving. Parents can extend that period for teenagers with ADHD, or set it as a condition in states that lack such laws.

·  Encourage practicing after obtaining a learner's permit. Teenagers with ADHD generally require more practice than those without. A pre-drive checklist can be a good place to start. For example:check the gas, check the mirrors, make sure the view through the windows is unobstructed, put cell phone in Do Not Disturb mode and place it out of reach, put on seat belt, scan for obstacles.

·   Consider outsourcing. Look for a driving school with a professional to teach good driving skills and habits.

Experts do not agree on whether to delay licensing for those with ADHD. On the one hand, teenagers with ADHD are 3-4 years behind in the development of brain areas responsible for executive functions that help control impulses and better guide behavior. Delaying licensing can reduce risk by about 20 percent. On the other hand, teens with ADHD are more likely to drive without a license, and no one wants to encourage that, however inadvertently. Moreover, graduated driver's licensing laws only have legal effect on teens who get their licenses at the customary age.

February 22, 2021

How extensive is perceived discrimination among adults with ADHD?

How extensive is perceived discrimination among adults with ADHD?

How Extensive Is Perceived Discrimination Among Adults With ADHD?

An international team of mental health professionals used a nationally representative sample of English adults over age 16 to explore this question. Of 13,671 households selected, 7,461 (a little more than half) participated.

Participants used the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) Screener to assess symptoms of ADHD on a scale ranging from 0 to 24. Those scoring ≥ 14 were considered as having high levels of ADHD symptoms. They also responded to a computer-assisted self-interview that asked, “Have you been unfairly treated in the last 12 months … because of your mental health,” requiring a yes or no answer.

The raw data showed an exponential relationship between levels of ADHD symptoms and mental health discrimination. Respondents scoring 0-9 on the ASRS reported negligible discrimination (prevalence of 0.3%). Among those scoring 10-13, the prevalence was 2.3%, rising to 5.5% of those with scores in the 14-17 range, and 18.8% among those in the 18-24 range.

After adjusting for sociodemographic variables (sex, age, ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, and income), those with high levels of ADHD symptoms were nearly 10 times more likely to have experienced discrimination than others.  After adjusting for other psychopathology and stressful life events, this increased risk fell to 2.8.

The authors concluded, “This is an important finding given that mental health discrimination has been associated with detrimental consequences in individuals with mental health disorders and therefore might also be a factor in the negative outcomes that have been noted in adults with ADHD/ADHD symptomatology. As ADHD continues to be underdiagnosed and untreated in adults, the results of this study highlight the importance of identifying and treating these individuals and suggest that interventions to inform the public about ADHD may be important for reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with this condition.”

February 20, 2021

New Insights Into The Brains of People Living with ADHD and ADHD Symptoms

New insights into the brains of people living with ADHD and those with ADHD symptoms.

The ENIGMA-ADHD Working Group published their second large study on the brains of people with ADHD in the American Journal of Psychiatry this month. In this second study, the focus was on the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain.

ADHD symptoms include inattention and/or hyperactivity and acting impulsively. The disorder affects more than one in 20 (5.3%) children, and two-thirds of those diagnosed continue to experience symptoms as adults.

In this study, researchers found subtle differences in the brain’s outer layer - the cortex - when they combined brain imaging data on almost 4,000 participants from 37 research groups worldwide. The differences were only significant for children and did not hold for adolescents or adults. The childhood effects were most prominent and widespread for the surface area of the cortex. More focal changes were found in the thickness of the cortex. All differences were subtle and detected only at a group level, and thus these brain images cannot be used to diagnose ADHD or guide its treatment.

These subtle differences in the brain’s cortex were not limited to people with the clinical diagnosis of ADHD: they were also present - in a less marked form - in youth with some ADHD symptoms. This second finding results from a collaboration between the ENIGMA-ADHD Working Group and the Generation-R study from Rotterdam, which has brain images on 2700 children aged 9-11 years from the general population. The researchers found more symptoms of inattention to be associated with a decrease in cortical surface area. Furthermore, siblings of those with ADHD showed changes to their cortical surface area that resembled their affected sibling. This suggests that familial factors such as genetics or shared environment may play a role in brain cortical characteristics.

This is the largest study to date to look at the cortex of people with ADHD. It included 2246 people with a diagnosis of ADHD and 1713 people without, aged between four and 63 years old. This is the second study published by the ENIGMA-ADHD Working Group; the first examined structures that are deep in the brain. The ADHD Working Group is one of over 50 working groups of the ENIGMA Consortium, in which international researchers pull together to understand the brain alterations associated with different disorders and the role of genetic and environmental factors in those alterations.

The authors say the findings could help improve understanding of the disorder. ‘We identify cortical differences that are consistently associated with ADHD by combining data from many different research groups internationally. We find that the differences extend beyond narrowly-defined clinical diagnoses and are seen, in a less marked manner, in those with some ADHD symptoms and in unaffected siblings of people with ADHD. This finding supports the idea that the symptoms underlying ADHD may be a continuous trait in the population, which has already been reported by other behavioral and genetic studies.’. In the future, the ADHD Working Group hopes to look at additional key features in the brain- such as the structural connections between brain areas – and to increase the representation of adults affected by ADHD, in whom limited research has been performed to date. 

See: https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.18091033

February 4, 2021