New ADHD intervention yields promising results
By: Susan Guibert
Navigating the social and emotional landscape of adolescence can be challenging for even the most adept young teen.
But for children who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, even ordinary daily routines like getting up and getting ready for school can be a struggle. Following a teacher’s instructions poses an additional set of complex challenges. Lack of impulse control and/or inattentiveness often defines the day-to-day life of an ADHD sufferer.
Psychology researchers at Notre Dame recently have conducted a study on adolescents with ADHD to learn more about the disorder and to determine if the working memory of a person with ADHD can be “re-trained” to operate more efficiently.
“Attention is a complex function. It’s not just one ability, but a host of abilities is involved,” explains Brad Gibson, associate professor of psychology, who is working on this project with Dawn Gondoli, associate professor of psychology; Julie Braungart-Rieker, professor of psychology, and Alesha Seroczynski, director of research at Madison Center.
“ADHD is thought to be an impairment of the brain’s executive functioning, possibly the working memory,” Gibson says. “For people with ADHD, the ability to hold information temporarily in mind is especially vulnerable to distraction. So organizing behavior across time—like remembering the series of things to do in order to get ready in the morning—requires the ability to suppress distraction, and kids with ADHD have trouble with that.”
Based on a similar study conducted in Sweden, which showed that a person’s working memory could be strengthened, Gibson and his colleagues administered a memory exercise to a group of students from a local middle school who had been diagnosed as having ADHD, and who were taking medication for it.
Every day for five weeks, these middle school students worked for 40 minutes on a specially designed computer program involving visual-spatial and verbal memory games. Students had to remember the sequence of a series of numbers or images, for instance, and replicate that sequence.
The results were encouraging.
“We knew we could measure and isolate the working memory, but it was not entirely clear if we could change it,” Gibson said. “But after this training, the majority of students did report improvements in behavior and symptoms of their ADHD, are doing more and can handle more. Their parents also noticed changes and improvements.”
Gibson reports that areas like reading comprehension also improved, allowing students to work at higher levels and maintain their new-found abilities.
Like many research projects, the results shed light on an issue, but simultaneously presented additional questions.
“The range of behaviors that can be affected by the working memory training will be the subject of future studies,” Gibson said.
If emotion regulation is also affected by the working memory, then, with training, it is possible that the ability to control impulses could be heightened in children with ADHD. Lack of impulse control often is a symptom in children diagnosed with ADHD.
An unlikely group also has shown interest in the results of this experiment: the U.S. Army. Men and women who have ADHD are prohibited from taking stimulant medication once they have enlisted. The results of this memory training provide the potential for non-medical treatment of ADHD, opening additional doors not only for children and adolescents, but also for adults.