Meta-analysis reports weak evidence for mindfulness interventions for children and adolescents with ADHD

Meta-analysis Reports Weak Evidence for Mindfulness Interventions for Children and Adolescents with ADHD

Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment. Mindfulness meditations include choosing a point of focus, such as breathing, and focusing on it continuously. They may also involve focusing single-mindedly on body movements, as in Yoga.

Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment. Mindfulness meditations include choosing a point of focus, such as breathing, and focusing on it continuously. They may also involve focusing single-mindedly on body movements, as in Yoga. This could be potentially useful because in focusing on the present moment with attention and emotion regulation, it addresses regulatory capacities impaired in ADHD.

Previous studies of efficacy of mindfulness interventions have been inconclusive, limited by low methodological quality. A Taiwanese study team tried to remedy this with a fresh meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs).

The team included three types of RCTs: yoga intervention, mindfulness-based psychological intervention, and mediation training. There was a lot of variation in the length of individual sessions and in the total number of hours of intervention.

Five studies used a waiting list control group. Two studies used treatment as usual or standard care as control groups. Only four studies followed best practices of using an active control group, such as a listening task, behavioral therapy, cooperative activities, or an emotional education program.

Twelve studies scored between 4 and 7 points from a possible total of 10 points, suggesting at best moderate methodological quality. More seriously, there was no indication of patient and therapist blinding.

With all these limitations, the one nominally positive result was for improvement in ADHD symptoms. A meta-analysis of seven RCTs with a combined 184 participants found a large reduction in ADHD symptoms post-treatment that did not persist at follow-up a couple months later. But between-study variation (heterogeneity) was extreme, with evidence of publication bias. The authors did not offer a revised estimate of efficacy based on the standard trim-and-fill adjustment.

Two additional meta-analyses, of seven RCTs with 200 participants, and seven RCTs with 215 participants, found no improvement in either externalizing or internalizing behaviors post-treatment. This time there was no sign of publication bias in either case. For externalizing behaviors, there was negligible heterogeneity, and moderate heterogeneity for internalizing behaviors.

A meta-analysis of four RCTs combining 122 participants found a moderate improvement in child mindfulness post-treatment, but it was not statistically significant.

February 13, 2024

Meta-Analysis: Is Neurofeedback A Viable Treatment For ADHD?

New meta-analysis of 17 RCTs finds no evidence of efficacy for neurofeedback treatment of ADHD

Neurofeedback, also known as EEG (electroencephalogram)biofeedback, is a treatment that seeks to alleviate symptoms of various neurological and mental health disorders, including ADHD. It does this through immediate feedback from a computer program that tracks a client's brainwave activity, then uses sound or visual signals to retrain these brain signals. This in principle enables patients to learn to regulate and improve their brain function and reduce symptoms.

An Iranian study team recently performed a systematic search of the peer-reviewed medical literature. It identified seventeen randomized-controlled trials (RCTs) of neurofeedback treatment for children and adolescents with ADHD that could be aggregated for meta-analysis.

A meta-analysis of twelve RCTs with a combined total of 740 youths looked at parent ratings of changes in hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, and separately of changes in inattention symptoms. In both instances, the net pooled effect centered on zero.

A meta-analysis of nine RCTs with a combined total of 787 youths examined teacher ratings. Once again, the pooled change hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms centered on zero. For inattention symptoms, the teacher ratings centered on a tiny improvement, but it did not approach statistical significance. The 95% confidence interval stretched well into negative territory.

There was no sign of publication bias. Between-study heterogeneity, on the other hand, was high, with some small sample size RCTs pointing to reduced symptoms, and other small sample size RCTs pointing to increased symptoms. However, the RCTs with the larger sample sizes clustered close around zero effect size.

The authors concluded,"The results provide preliminary evidence that neurofeedback treatment is not an efficacious clinical method for ADHD."

March 23, 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

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

Is There Any Hard Evidence in Support of Homeopathic Remedies for ADHD?

Is there any hard evidence in support of homeopathic remedies for ADHD?

According to Vox, "Homeopathy is a $1.2 billion industry in the US alone, used by an estimated 5 million adults and 1 million kids. It's become such a staple of America's wellness industry that leading brands such as Boiron and Hyland's are readily available at high-end health-focused chains like Whole Foods and sprouts, supermarkets like Ralph's, and superstores such as Walmart."

Yet, this highly profitable "wellness" industry has shown little to no interest in supporting randomized clinical trials (RCTs) to test the efficacy and safety of its products.

In a team of Italian physicians, Rana comprehensive search of the medical literature and found only nine RCTs exploring the efficacy and safety of homeopathic remedies for psychiatric disorders that met the selection criteria.

Only two of these RCTs addressed efficacy for ADHD, with a combined 99 participants. Neither reported any significant effect.

Combining them into a small meta-analysis likewise found no significant effect.

But that's not all. According to the study authors, "The paucity of published trials does not allow a reliable estimate of publication bias, which would require a larger number of studies. This is a major issue since it has been reported that, among completed trials of homeopathy registered on ClinicalTrials.gov, only 46% were published within 2 years of completion, and among these, 25% altered or changed their primary outcomes. It is, therefore, possible that the results of the present meta-analysis are distorted because of selective publication."

The authors conclude, "The most surprising result of this meta-analysis is the paucity of available data from RCTs," and "Based on the very few available trials, homeopathy did not produce any relevant effect on symptoms of ADHD ... Ethical considerations should therefore prevent clinicians from recommending HRs [homeopathic remedies], which have a cost either for patients or for health care systems, until when a sufficient amount of solid evidence becomes available."

January 8, 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

How Acupuncture Compares with Methylphenidate for Reducing ADHD Symptoms

Meta-analysis compares efficacy of acupuncture with methylphenidate for reducing ADHD symptoms

A team of Taiwanese researchers conducted a comprehensive search of the peer-reviewed literature to identify all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) performed to date exploring the efficacy of acupuncture treatment (AT) in reducing ADHD symptoms. They found ten studies with a combined total of 876 participants that met their search criteria. Seven were performed in China, one in South Korea, one in Iran, and one in the U.S. All involved youths, ranging from ages 3 to 18.

All required either a DSM-IV or DSM-V diagnosis of ADHD for inclusion. The controls varied. One used waitlist. Eight compared acupuncture treatment with methylphenidate treatment, with dosages varying from as little as 10-20 mg/day to 1,020 mg/day and 1,854 mg/day. Only one study was double-blind, meaning that both participants and investigators were blinded as to who was getting which treatment. It is of course essentially impossible to blind participants in RCTs involving AT unless sham-At is used as a control. Only one RCT compared AT with sham-AT, and it was not used in either meta-analysis.

Keeping these limitations in mind, a meta-analysis of the eight studies with 716 participants that compared AT with MPH found AT to be more than twice as effective in reducing ADHD symptoms as MPH. Heterogeneity between studies was low, with no sign of publication bias.

However, none of these studies reported ADHD rating scale scores, an additional major limitation. Instead, because outcome measurements varied across RCTs, the authors relied on "effective rate" (ER): The evaluation was divided into cured, markedly effective, effective, and ineffective. We merged the number of "cured," "markedly effective," and "effective" patients to be divided by the sample size to calculate the proportion of subjects who experienced at least some improvement in their ADHD symptoms in the ER.

On the other hand, a meta-analysis of three studies with 232 participants compared the effects of AT and MPH on actual hyperactivity scores and found MPH was much more effective than AT. Homogeneity was moderate, again with no sign of publication bias.

The author cautioned, "The quality of the evidence was low for the ER assessment because of the selection, performance, and detection biases. For hyperactivity scores, the quality of evidence was very low because of the selection and performance biases and significant heterogeneity." Due to the various limitations, they concluded, "AT may be more effective than methylphenidate for the treatment of ADHD in children and adolescents," but "firm conclusions still can not be drawn."

November 15, 2023

Outcomes of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Adults with ADHD

Behavioral and Cognitive Impacts of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Adults with ADHD

A Canadian team has published a systematic review examining the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) for treating adults with ADHD. MBIs usually involve three forms of meditation “ body scan, sitting meditation, and mindful yoga “ that are intended to cultivate nonjudgmental awareness of the present-moment experience. The team reviewed thirteen studies.

Three were single-group studies with no control group. One used dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It reported mild to moderate improvements in ADHD symptoms, and substantial improvements in neurocognitive function (with standardized mean difference effect sizes from .99 to 2.22). A second enrolled both adults and adolescents in a mindful awareness program (MAP)which included a psychoeducational component. It found improvements in itself-reported ADHD symptoms, with standardized mean difference (SMD) effect sizes running from .50 to.93. Following training, it also reported improvement in attentional conflict (.93) set-shifting (.43). The third study also used DBT, which focused on acceptance, mindfulness, functional behavioral analysis, and psychoeducation. ADHD symptoms showed mild improvement (.22), and functional impairment was slightly reduced (.15) and remained stable at the 3-month follow-up.

The other ten studies used control groups. One used MAP and carefully stratified participants based on their ADHD medication status, then randomly assigned them to mindfulness treatment or waitlist. It reported large effect sizes in the improvement of self-reported and clinician ratings of ADHD symptoms (1.35 to 3.14), executive functioning (1.45 to 2.67), and self-reported emotion regulation (1.27 to 1.63). Another study non randomly assigned adults to either mindfulness-based training (MBT) or skills training. Effect sizes were small to medium (.06 to .49), with 31% of MBT participants showing some improvement, versus only 11% of skills training participants.

Another study involved a controlled trial of college students with ADHD, randomized to receive either MBT or skills treatments. Treatment response rates were higher for MBT (59-65%, vs. 19-25%). In follow-up, the effect size for MBT on ADHD symptoms was large (.84), and similarly large on executive functioning (.81).

Another study tried a year's worth of mindfulness training for poor responders to medication. Participants who received the treatment were compared to others who were waitlisted. The study reported a medium effect size(.63) in reducing the severity of ADHD.

Another looked at the impact of MAP on affective problems and impaired attention. It compared adults with ADHD and healthy controls who participated in MAP sessions with similar patients and controls who did not. The authors reported that MAP improved sustained attention and mood, with medium to large effect sizes (.50 to .80).

A recent study explored the impact of MAP on neurocognitive performance with a randomized controlled trial. Following an 8-week mindfulness training, researchers found a significant decrease in ADHD symptoms and significant improvement in task performance in both the MAP and the psychoeducation comparison group post- versus pre-intervention but did not find evidence for a significant main effect of treatment or a significant interaction effect on any ADHD symptoms (self-and observer-rated) nor on task performance (WM).

Another study randomly assigned adults with ADHD either to the waitlist or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). It found that MBCT led to a medium-to-large reduction in self-reported ADHD symptoms (.64) and a large reduction in investigator-reported symptoms (.78). It also found large(.93) improvements in executive functioning.

An 11th study looked at the effects of MBCT on neuropsychological correlates (event-related potentials (ERPs)) of performance monitoring in adults with ADHD. Half the patients were randomly assigned tomb cut, and the other half to the waitlist. MBCT produced reduced inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, and global ADHD index symptoms with medium to large effect sizes (.49 to .93).

A 12th study randomly assigned college students to MBCT or waitlist. At follow-up, participants who had received MBCT exhibited large (1.26) reductions in ADHD symptoms as well as greater treatment response rates (57%-71% vs. 23%-31%) versus waitlist. They also registered a greater improvement in most neuropsychological performance and attentional scores.

Finally, another study compared the efficacy of MBCT plus treatment as usual (TAU) versus TAU only in reducing core symptoms in adults with ADHD. Participants were randomly assigned to an 8-weekly group therapy including meditation exercises, psycho-education, and group discussions, or TAU only, including pharmacotherapy and/or psychoeducation. At 6-month follow-up, MBCT+TAU patients reported large (SMD = .79) improvements in ADHD symptoms relative to patients.

Overall, these are promising results of mindfulness-based interventions, and all the more so for those who do not respond well to drug therapy. Nevertheless, they must be seen as tentative. The total of participants overall in thirteen studies was just 753, or an average of only 58 per study. There was too much variation in the studies to perform a meta-analysis. Only one of the studies included a healthy (non-ADHD) control group. And only one study received a perfect score from Cochrane Collaboration standards.  Most studies did not use a suitable control group, i.e., one in which there was an expectation of benefit from participating.  As the authors noted, "Attrition bias was found to have high or unclear risk in more than a half of the studies. The reason for dropout of participants was not always clearly specified in those studies, so it is difficult to decide if it might be related to adverse effects or some discomfort with treatment or instead to some incidental reasons."

August 23, 2021

Can ADHD be Treated With Mindfulness-Based Interventions?

How effective are mindfulness-based interventions in treating attention deficit symptoms?

Mindfulness has been defined as intentionally directing attention to present moment experiences with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) aim to improve mindfulness skills.

A newly-published meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) by a team of British neurologists and psychiatrists explores the effectiveness of MBIs in treating a variety of mental health conditions in children and adolescents. Among those conditions is the attention deficit component of ADHD.

A comprehensive literature search identified studies that met the following criteria:

1)     The effects of mindfulness were compared against control conditions “either no contact, waitlist, active, or attention placebo. The waitlist means the control group receives the same treatment after the study concludes. Active control means that a known, effective treatment (as opposed to a placebo) is compared to an experimental treatment. Attention placebo means that controls receive a treatment that mimics the time and attention received by the treatment group, but is believed not to have a specific effect on the subjects. Participants were randomly assigned to the control condition.
2)     The MBI was delivered in more than one session by a trained mindfulness teacher, involved sustained meditation practice, and was not mixed in with another activity such as yoga.

Eight studies evaluating attention deficit symptoms, with a combined total of 1,158 participants, met inclusion criteria. The standardized mean difference (SMD) was 0.19, with a 95% confidence range of 0.04 to 0.34 (p= .02). That indicates a small effect size for MBIs in reducing attention deficit symptoms. Heterogeneity was low (I2 = 35, p = .15), and teenager test showed little sign of publication bias (p = 0.42).

When looking only at studies with active controls, five studies with a total of 787 participants yielded an SMD of 0.13, with a 95%confidence interval of -0.01 to 0.28 (p = .06), indicating a tiny effect size that failed to reach significance. Active controls most commonly received health education, with a few receiving social responsibility training or Hath a yoga.

Overall, this meta-analysis suggests limited effectiveness, especially when compared with active controls.  If MBIs are effective for ADHD, their effect on symptoms is very small.  Thus, such treatments should not be used in place of the many well-validated, evidenced-based therapies available. Whether longer periods of MBI (training times varied between 2 and 18 hours spread out over 2to 24 weeks) might result in greater effect sizes remains unexplored.

August 21, 2021

How Effective are Meditation-based Therapies for ADHD?

How effective are meditation-based therapies for ADHD?

An international team of researchers recently published a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials examining the efficacy of meditation-based therapies. Thirteen randomized controlled clinical trials(RCTs) were included: seven, with 270 participants, focused on children and adolescents; the other six, with 339 participants, were on adults. Because only one of the RCTs was appropriately blinded, the results discussed below, although promising, must be considered preliminary.


Among children and adolescents, the meta-analysis revealed a significant, medium effect size (SMD = -0.44, 95% CI -0.69 to -0.19)on ADHD symptoms for meditation therapy versus no treatment. There were virtually no heterogeneity among studies and no sign of publication bias. Improvements in inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity had similar effect sizes. Neuropsychological measures of inhibition and attention indicated small-to-medium effect sizes but failed to achieve statistical significance, perhaps due to the small numbers of trials and participants (159 and 179, respectively).


For adults, the significant effect size on ADHD symptoms was medium-to-large (SMD = -.66, 95% CI -1.21 to -0.11). Once again, there was little sign of publication bias. But in this case, there was great heterogeneity among the studies. Improvements in inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity were again comparable, although they fell just short of statistical significance for the latter. Neuropsychological measures of the efficacy of medication therapy produced statistically significant medium effect sizes for inhibition (SMD = -0.54) and working memory (SMD = - 0.42), with virtually no heterogeneity or sign of publication bias.


Although these results are promising, the authors of the meta-analysis concluded, "Despite statistically significant effects on ADHD combined core symptoms, due to paucity of RCTs, heterogeneity across studies, and lack of studies at low risk of bias, there is insufficient methodologically sound evidence to support meditation-based therapies for ADHD."

July 12, 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

Can ADHD be Treated with Fish Oil?

Can ADHD be Treated with Fish Oil?

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.  For my lay readers, that means that many rigorous studies have been conducted and summarized with a sophisticated mathematical method. If you are interested in fish oil as a treatment for ADHD, there is some good news.  Many good studies have been published and these have been subjected to meta-analysis. To be more exact, we're discussing omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUF As), which are found in many fish oils. Omega-3 PUF As reduces inflammation and oxidative stress, which is why they had been tested as treatments for ADHD. When these studies were meta-analyzed, it became clear that omega-3 PUFAs high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) helped to reduce ADHD symptoms. For details see: Bloch, M. H. and J. Mulqueen (2014). "Nutritional supplements for the treatment of ADHD." Child Addles Psychiatry Clin N Am23(4): 883-897. So, if omega-3 PUF helps reduce ADHD symptoms, why are doctors still prescribing ADHD drugs? The reason is simple. Omega-3supplements work, but not very well. On a scale of one to 10 where 10 is the best effect, drug therapy scores 9 to 10but omega-3 therapy scores only 2.  Some patients or parents of patients might want to try omega-3 therapy first, in the hopes that it will work well for them. That is a possibility, but if that is your choice, you should not delay the more effective drug treatments for too long in the likely event that omega-3 therapy is not sufficient.  What about combining ADHD drugs with omega-3 supplements? We don't know. I hope that future research will see if combined therapy might reduce the number of drugs required for each patient. Keep in mind that the treatment guidelines from professional organizations point to ADHD drugs as the first-line treatment for ADHD. The only exception is for preschool children where medication is only the first-line treatment for severe ADHD; the guidelines recommend that other preschoolers with ADHD be treated with non-pharmacologic treatments, when available. You can learn more about non-pharmacologic treatments for ADHD from a book I recently edited: Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Addles psychiatry Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.

May 29, 2021

Other Myths About ADHD

OTHER MYTHS ABOUT ADHD

Myth: ADHD is an American disorder.
Those who claim ADHD is an American disorder believe that ADHD is due to the pressures of living in a fast-paced, competitive American society.   Some argue that if we lived in a simpler world, ADHD would not exist.  

Fact:  ADHD occurs throughout the world.

Wherever scientists have searched for ADHD, they have found it.  They have done this by going to different countries, and speaking to people in the community to diagnose them with or without ADHD.   These studies show that ADHD occurs throughout the world and that the percentage of people having ADHD does not differ between the United States and the rest of the world.   Examples of where ADHD has been found include  Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, The Netherlands, and Ukraine.   ADHD is not an American disorder.

Myth: A child who sits still to watch TV or play video games cannot have ADHD.
Many parents are puzzled that their child can sit still to watch TV or play video games for hours, but that same child cannot sit still for dinner or stay at their desk for long to do homework.  Are these children faking ADHD symptoms to get out of homework?

Fact:  ADHD does not necessarily interfere with playing video games or watching TV.

Because children cannot turn their ADHD on and off to suit their needs, it does seem odd that a child who is typically hyperactive and inattentive can sit for hours playing a video game.  But this ability of ADHD children fits in very well with scientific facts about ADHD. First, you probably understand the effects of rewards and punishment on behavior.  If your behavior is rewarded, you are likely to do it again.  If it is punished, you will avoid that behavior in the future.  Rewards that have the strongest effect on our behavior are large and will occur soon. For example, consider these two choices:
a)      if you listen to a boring one-hour lecture, I will pay you $100 immediately after the lecture
b)      if you listen to a boring one-hour lecture, I will pay you $110 one year after the lecture
Choice (a) is more appealing than choice (b).  Most people will not think it is worthwhile to wait one year for $10.  We say they have 'discounted' the $10 to $0.
Now consider the choices:
c)      if you listen to a boring one-hour lecture, I will pay you $100 immediately after the lecture
d)     if you listen to a boring one-hour lecture, I will pay you $2,000 one year after the lecture

Choice (d) is more appealing than choice (c).  Most people will wait one year for$2,000.   It is obvious here is that if I want the best chance of having you watch a lecture, I should offer you a large sum of money immediately after the lecture. What is not so obvious is that people vary a great deal in the degree to which they are affected by rewards that are either small or distant in the future.   For some people, getting $2,000in one year is almost like getting nothing at all.  We say that such people are not sensitive to distant rewards.

What does this have to do with ADHD and video games?  Well, people with ADHD are usually not very sensitive to weak or distant rewards.  To affect the behavior of a person with ADHD, the reward needs to be immediate and fairly large.  When a child with ADHD sits down to do homework, the potential reward is getting a good grade on their report card, but they won't receive that grade for weeks or months, so it is very distant.  Thus, it is not surprising that the possibility of that reward cannot control the child's behavior.  In contrast, video games are created so that players are rewarded very frequently by winning points or completing one of the many levels one must pass to finally complete the game.  Because playing well is also rewarded by friends, the video game rewards are strong and immediate, which makes it easy for people with ADHD to sit still and play for long periods.

 Myth: ADHD disappears in adulthood.
Until the 1990s, it was commonly believed that children grew out of ADHD.  The reason for this is not clear.  Some theories about ADHD suggested that ADHD children had a lag in brain development, and that they would make up for that lag during adolescence.  So ADHD was seen as a delay in brain development that could be overcome.   The idea that children routinely recovered from ADHD was so strong that many insurance companies would not pay for the ADHD treatment of adults.

Fact: In the majority of cases, ADHD persists into adulthood.
This myth about ADHD has been proven wrong by studies that diagnosed ADHD in children and then examined it many years later than in adults.  These studies showed that, although there was some recovery from ADHD, about two-thirds of cases persisted into adulthood. The studies also taught us that ADHD symptoms tend to change with age.  The extreme and disruptive hyperactivity of many ADHD children gets somewhat better by adulthood, as do some symptoms of impulsivity.   In contrast, inattentive symptoms do not decrease much with age.

 Myth: People with ADHD cannot do well in school or succeed in life.
This myth is based on several facts: 1) ADHD affects many aspects of life; 2) ADHD impairs thinking and behavior and 3) for most people, ADHD is a lifelong disorder.   Altogether, doesn't this mean that people with ADHD won't succeed in life?

Fact: People with ADHD can succeed and live productive lives.
There are two reasons why people with ADHD can succeed in life. The first is obvious.  Although treatments for ADHD are not perfect, they can eliminate many of the obstacles that would otherwise make it difficult for ADHD patients to do well in school or on the job.  But, more importantly, having ADHD is only one of many facts about a person's life.   Some ADHD people have other skills or traits that help them compensate for their ADHD.  For example, if you have a high level of intelligence, an engaging personality, or excellent athletic skills, you can do well despite having ADHD.   Consider Michael Phelps, who broke so many Olympic swimming records. He was diagnosed with ADHD at age 9 and took Ritalin to help his hyperactivity.   James Carville has ADHD, but he completed law school and helped Bill Clinton become President of the United States.  Cammi Granato's ADHD did not stop her from becoming captain of the United  States Olympic ice hockey team, and Ty Pennington's ADHD did not stop him from becoming a  star on TV.

 Myth: ADHD does not affect highly intelligent people
The mistake behind this myth is that it assumes that being very intelligent protects people from having ADHD.  It's true that if you are highly intelligent, you can use that intelligence to compensate for some ADHD' effects, but does high intelligence completely protect a person from ADHD?

Fact: People with ADHD can succeed and live productive lives.
When my colleagues and I studied this question, we found clear evidence that high intelligence does not completely protect people from ADHD. Like people who don't have ADHD, having high intelligence will help Alderpeople do better than ADHD people who are not smart.  But when we compared highly intelligent Alderpeople with highly intelligent non-ADHD people, we found that the highly intelligent ADHD people had many of the impairing problems that are known to be associated with ADHD.  For details about these problems, see Complications of ADHD.  In another study, we compared ADHD adults who had received straight A grades in high school, with non-ADHD people who had achieved the same grades.  Despite their good grades, these ADHD adults were not doing as well in their jobs and not earning as much income as the non-ADHD adults.  And ADHD also has an impact at every level of education.  As you can see from the figure, even for people with college degrees, having ADHD lowers your chances of being employed.

May 19, 2021

Are Nonpharmacologic Treatments for ADHD Useful?

Are Nonpharmacologic Treatments for ADHD Useful?

There are several very effective drugs for ADHD, and those treatment guidelines from professional organizations view these drugs as the first line of treatment for people with ADHD. The only exception is for preschool children where medication is only the first line of treatment for severe ADHD; the guidelines recommend that other preschoolers with ADHD be treated with non-pharmacologic treatments, when available. Despite these guidelines, some parents and patients have been persuaded by the media or the Internet that ADHD drugs are dangerous and that non-drug alternative are as good or even better. Parents and patients may also be influenced by media reports that doctors overprescribe ADHD drugs or that these drugs have serious side effects. Such reports typically simplify and/or exaggerate results from the scientific literature. Thus, many patients and parents of ADHD children are seeking non-drug treatments for ADHD. What are these non-pharmacologic treatments and do they work? My next series of blogs will discuss each of these treatments in detail. Here I'll give an overview of my evidenced-based taxonomy of non-pharmacologic treatments for ADHD described in more detail in a book I recently edited (Faraone, S. V. &Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.). I use the term "evidence-based" in the strict sense applied by the Oxford Center for Evidenced Based Medicine (OCEBM; http://www.cebm.net/). Most of the non-drug treatments for ADHD fall into three categories: behavioral, dietary, and neurocognitive. Behavioral interventions include training parents to optimize methods of reward and punishment for their ADHD child, teaching ADHD children social skills, and helping teachers apply principles of behavior management in their classrooms. Cognitive behavior therapy is a method that teaches behavioral and cognitive skills to adolescent and adult ADHD patients. Dietary interventions include special diets that exclude food coloring or eliminate foods believed to cause ADHD symptoms. Other dietary interventions provide supplements such as iron, zinc, or omega-3 fatty acids.  The neurocognitive interventions typically use a computer-based learning setup to teach ADHD patients cognitive skills that will help reduce ADHD symptoms. There are two metrics to consider when thinking about the evidence base for these methods. The first is the quality of the evidence. For example, a study of 10 patients with no control group would be a low-quality study, but a study of 100 patients randomized to either a treatment or control group would be of high quality and the quality would be even higher if the people's rating patient outcomes did not know who was in each group. The second metric is the magnitude of the treatment effect. Does the treatment dramatically reduce ADHD symptoms, or does it have only a small effect? This metric is only available for high-quality studies that compare people treated with the method and people treated with a 'control' method that is not expected to affect ADHD. I used a statistical metric to quantify the magnitude of the effect. Zero means no effect, and larger numbers indicate better effects on treating ADHD symptoms. For comparison, the effect of stimulant drugs for ADHD is about 0.9, which is derived from a very strong evidence base.  The effects of dietary treatments are smaller, about 0.4 to 0.5, but because the quality of the evidence is not strong, these results are not certain and the studies of food color exclusions apply primarily to children who have high intakes of such colorants. In contrast to the dietary studies, the evidence base for behavioral treatments is excellent, but the effects of these treatments on ADHD symptoms are very small, less than 0.1.  Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids also has a strong evidence base, but the magnitude of the effect is also small (0.1 to 0.2). The neurocognitive treatments have modest effects on ADHD symptoms (0.2 to 0.4) but their evidence base is weak. This review of non-drug treatments explains why ADHD drug treatments are usually used first. The evidence base is stronger, and they are more effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. There is, however, a role for some non-drug treatments. I'll be discussing that in subsequent blog posts. See more evidence-based information about ADHD at www.adhdinadults.com

May 17, 2021

Myths About the Treatment of ADHD

Myths About The Treatment of ADHD

Myth:  ADHD medications "anesthetize" ADHD children.
 
The idea here is that the drug treatment of ADHD is no more than a chemical straightjacket intended to control a child's behavior to be less bothersome to parents and teachers. After all, everyone knows that if you shoot up a person with tranquilizers, they will calm down.

Fact:  ADHD medications are neither anesthetics nor tranquilizers.

The truth of the matter is that most ADHD medications are stimulants. They don't anesthetize the brain; they stimulate it. By speeding up the transmission of dopamine signals in the brain, ADHD medications improve brain functioning, which in turn leads to an increased ability to pay attention and control behavior.  The non-stimulant medications improve signaling by norepinephrine. They also improve the brain's ability to process signals. They are not sedatives or anesthetics. When taking their medication, ADHD patients can focus and control their behavior to be more effective in school, work, and relationships.  They are not "drugged" into submission.

Myth: ADHD medications cause drug and alcohol abuse
We know from many long-term studies of ADHD children that when they reach adolescence and adulthood, they are at high risk for alcohol and drug use disorders. Because of this fact, some media reports have implied that their drug use was caused by treatment of their ADHD with stimulant medications.

Fact: ADHD medications do not cause drug and alcohol abuse
Some ADHD medications indeed use the same chemicals that are found in street drugs, such as amphetamine.  But there is a very big difference between these medications and street drugs. When street drugs are injected or snorted, they can lead to addiction, but when they are taken in pill form as prescribed by a doctor, they do not cause addiction. When my colleagues and I examined the world literature on this topic, we found that rather than causing drug and alcohol abuse, stimulant medicine protected ADHD children from these problems later in life. One study from researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts General Hospital found that the drug treatment of ADHD reduced the risk for illicit drug use by84 a percent. These findings make intuitive sense. These medicines reduce the symptoms of the disorder that lead to illicit drug use. For example, an impulsive ADHD teenager who acts without thinking is much more likely to use drugs than an ADHD teen whose symptoms are controlled by medical drug treatment. After we published our study, other work appeared. Some of these studies did not agree that ADHD medications protected ADHD people from drug abuse, but they did not find that they caused drug abuse.

Myth:  Psychological or behavioral therapies should be tried before medication.  
Many people are cautious about taking medications, and that caution is even stronger when parents consider treatment options for their children.  Because medications can have side effects, shouldn't people with ADHD try to talk therapy before taking medicine?

Fact:  Treatment guidelines suggest that medication is the first-line treatment.
The problem with trying talk or behavior therapy before medication is that medication works much better.  For ADHD adults, one type of talk therapy(cognitive behavioral therapy) is recommended, but only when the patient is also taking medication.  The multimodal treatment of ADHD (MTA) study examined this issue in ADHD children from several academic medical centers in the United States. That study found that treating ADHD with medication was better than treating it with behavior therapy. Importantly, behavior therapy plus medication was no more effective than medication alone. That is why treatment guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Children and Adolescents recommend medicine as a first-line treatment for ADHD, except for preschool children. ADHD medications indeed have side effects, but these are usually mild and typically do not interfere with treatment.  And don't forget about the risks that a patient faces when they do not use medications for ADHD.  These untreated patients are at risk for worsening ADHD symptoms and complications.

Myth: Brain abnormalities of ADHD patients are caused by psychiatric medications
A large scientific literature shows that ADHD people have subtle problems with the structure and function of their brains.  Scientists believe that these problems are the cause of ADHD symptoms. Critics of ADHD claim that these brain problems are caused by the medications used to treat ADHD.  Who is right?

Fact: Brain abnormalities are found in never medicated ADHD patients.
Alan Zametkin, a scientist at the US National Institute of Mental Health, was the first to show brain abnormalities in ADHD patients who had never been treated for their ADHD.  He found that some parts of the brains of ADHD patients were underactive. His findings could not be due to medication because the patients had never been medicated. Since his study, many other researchers have used neuroimaging to examine the brains of ADHD patients. This work confirmed Dr. Zametkin’s observation of abnormal brain findings in unmediated patients. Reviews of the brain imaging literature have concluded that the brain abnormalities seen in ADHD cannot be attributed to ADHD medications.

May 15, 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

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

Everything You Need to Know About ADHD

Everything You Need to Know About ADHD

You've heard all sorts of misinformation about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD), whether from friends, the internet, or uninformed press articles:

"ADHD is not real."

"Pharmaceutical companies invented ADHD to make money."

"I'm just a little ADD."

"Natural solutions are the best for ADHD treatment."

ADHD symptoms were first described in the late 1700s, primarily among hyperactive boys. It was described variously over 200 years as "fidgeting," "defects of moral control," "hyperkinetic reaction," "minimal brain damage" and eventually ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) in the 1980s and ADHD today.

Because the natural tendency toward hyperactivity decreased with age, ADHD was originally thought to be a developmental disorder that disappeared in mid-to-late adolescence. When medicines were developed and used in ADHD treatment for young boys, physicians stopped prescribing them around mid-adolescence, because it was presumed the condition had been remediated. They were wrong. We know now that ADHD persists into adulthood for about two-thirds of ADHD youth.

ADHD was not widely recognized in girls until the mid-1990s when it became clear that girls with ADHD were less disruptive than boys with ADHD and were not being appropriately diagnosed. Girls with ADHD show less of the physical hyperactivity of boys, but suffer from "dreaminess," "lack of focus" and "lack of follow-through."

It was also in the 1990s that ADHD' pervasive comorbidity with depression, anxiety, mood, and autism spectrum disorders was established. At the same time, researchers were beginning to describe deficits in executive functioning and emotional dysregulation that became targets of substantial research in the 21st century.

Even with the 1990s recognition that ADHD is a lifetime disorder, equally present (in different forms) in both men and women, medical schools and continuing medical education courses (required for realizing sure of health professionals) have only begun to teach the most up-to-date evidence-based knowledge to the medical community. There still is much misinformation and a lack of knowledge among primary care professionals and the public.

ADHD Throughout the Lifespan
Most cases of ADHD start in Otero before the child is born. As a fetus, the future ADHD person carries versions of genes that increase the risk for the disorder. At the same time, they are exposed to toxic environments. These genetic and environmental risks change the developing brain, setting the foundation for the future emergence of ADHD.

In preschool, early signs of ADHD are seen in emotional lability, hyperactivity, disinhibited behavior and speech, and language and coordination problems. The full-blown ADHD syndrome typically occurs in early childhood, but can be delayed until adolescence. In some cases, the future ADHD person is temporarily protected from the emergence of ADHD due to factors such as high intelligence or especially supportive family and/or school environments. But, as the challenges of life increase, this social, emotional, and intellectual scaffolding is no longer sufficient to control the emergence of disabling ADHD symptoms.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, the emergence and persistence of the disorder are regulated by additional environmental risk factors such as family chaos, as well as the age-dependent expression of risk genes that exert different effects at different stages of development. During adolescence, most cases of ADHD persist and by the teenage years, many youths with ADHD have onset with a mood, anxiety, or substance use disorder. Indeed, parents and clinicians need to monitor ADHD youth for early signs of these disorders. Prompt treatment can prevent years of distress and disability.

By adulthood, the number of comorbid conditions increases, including obesity, which likely impacts future medical outcomes. Emerging data shows people with ADHD to be at increased risk for hypertension and diabetes. ADHD adults tend to be very inattentive but show fewer symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. They remain at risk for substance abuse, low self-esteem, injuries due to accidents, occupational failure, and social disability, especially if they are not treated for the disorder.

Seven Important Concepts About ADHD


There are approximately 10 million U.S. adults with ADHD, 9 million of whom are undiagnosed. But with diligent research by the medical profession, we have learned seven important concepts about ADHD:
1.    ADHD has been documented worldwide in 5% of the population.
2.    Sixty-seven percent of ADHD children grow into ADHD adults and seniors. ADHD is heritable, runs in families, and is impacted by the physical environment and familial lifestyle.
3.    In youth, rates of ADHD are higher in males than females as males, but these rates even out by adulthood.
4.    ADHD coexists and is often masked by several other disorders: anxiety, depression, spectrum bipolar and autism disorder, substance abuse, alcoholism, obesity, risky behaviors, disorganized lives, working memory deficits, and significant executive dysfunctions that affect personal, social, and work success.
5.    ADHD medications(stimulants and non-stimulants) are the most effective treatments for ADHD symptoms. Psychological support/training designed for ADHD, and lifestyle modifications, are important adjuncts to medicine.
6.    ADHD costs the U.S. economy more than $100 million annually in lost productivity, accidents, hospitalizations with comorbidities, and family and professional support for ADHD patients.
7.    ADHD is diagnosable and safely treatable in trained primary care practices.

How do you know if you or someone you love has ADHD? Evaluate your life against the seven concepts above. Then get screened and diagnosed by a health care professional. The diagnosis of ADHD should be done only by a licensed clinician who has been trained in ADHD. That clinician should have one goal in mind: to plan a safe and effective course of evidence-based treatment.

When diagnosing adults, it is also useful to collect information from a significant other, which can be a parent for young adults or a spouse for older adults. But when such individuals are not available, diagnosing ADHD based on the patient's self-report is valid. Just remember that personal, work, and family lives are improved with treatment. Research and technology related to ADHD improve all the time.

ADHD in Adults is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about ADHD, with evidence-based information and education for both healthcare professionals and the public. The website also features a new ADHD screener for predicting the presence of ADHD in adults.

Stephen V. Faraone, Ph.D., is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience & Physiology at SUNY Update Medical University and a global expert on Adult ADHD.

March 12, 2021

Outcomes of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Adults with ADHD

Behavioral and Cognitive Impacts of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Adults with ADHD

A Canadian team has published a systematic review examining the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs)for treating adults with ADHD. MBIs usually involves three forms of meditation –body scan, sitting meditation, and mindful yoga – that are intended to cultivate non-judgmental awareness of the present-moment experience. The team reviewed thirteen studies.

Three were single-group studies with no control group. One used dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It reported mild to moderate improvements in ADHD symptoms, and substantial improvements in neurocognitive function (with standardized mean difference effect sizes from.99 to 2.22). A second enrolled both adults and adolescents in a mindful awareness program (MAP) which included a psychoeducational component. It found improvements in self-reported ADHD symptoms, with standardized mean difference(SMD) effect sizes running from .50 to.93. Following training, it also reported improvement in attentional conflict (.93) set-shifting (.43). The third study also used DBT, focused on acceptance, mindfulness, functional behavioral analysis, and psychoeducation. ADHD symptoms showed mild improvement (.22), and functional impairment was slightly reduced (.15) and remained stable at a 3-month follow-up.

The other ten studies used control groups. One used MAP and carefully stratified participants based on their ADHD medication status, then randomly assigned them to mindfulness treatment or waitlist. It reported large effect sizes in the improvement of self-reported and clinician ratings of ADHD symptoms (1.35 to 3.14), executive functioning (1.45 to 2.67), and self-reported emotion regulation (1.27 to 1.63). In another study, non randomly assigned adults to either mindfulness-based training (MBT) or skills training. Effect sizes were small to medium (.06 to .49), with 31% of MBT participants showing some improvement, versus only 11% of skills training participants.

Another study involved a controlled trial of college students with ADHD, randomized to receive either MBT or skills treatments. Treatment response rates were higher for MBT (59-65%, vs. 19-25%). At follow-up, the effect size for MBT on ADHD symptoms was large (.84), and similarly large on executive functioning (.81).

Another study tried a year’s worth of mindfulness training on poor responders to medication. Participants who received the treatment were compared to others who were waitlisted. The study reported a medium effect size (.63) in reducing the severity of ADHD.

Another looked at the impact of MAP on affective problems and impaired attention. It compared adults with ADHD and healthy controls who participated in MAP sessions with similar patients and controls who did not. The authors reported that MAP improved sustained attention and mood, with medium to large effect sizes (.50 to .80).

A recent study explored the impact of MAP on neurocognitive performance with a randomized controlled trial. Following an8-week mindfulness training, researchers “found a significant decrease in ADHD symptoms and significant improvement in task performance in both the MAP and the psychoeducation comparison group post - versus pre-intervention but did not find evidence for a significant main effect of treatment or a significant interaction effect on any ADHD symptoms (self-and observer-rated) nor on task performance (WM).”

Another study randomly assigned adults with ADHD either to a waitlist or to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). It found that MBCT led to a medium-to-large reduction in self-reported ADHD symptoms (.64) and a large reduction in investigator-reported symptoms (.78). It also found large (.93) improvements in executive functioning.

An 11th study looked at the effects of MBCT on neuropsychological correlates (event-related potentials(ERPs)) of performance monitoring in adults with ADHD. Half the patients were randomly assigned to MBCT, the other half to waitlist. MBCT produced reduced inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, and global ADHD index symptoms with medium to large effect sizes (.49 to .93).

A 12th study randomly assigned college students to MBCT or waitlist. At follow-up, participants who had received MBCT exhibited large (1.26) reductions in ADHD symptoms as well as greater treatment response rates (57%-71% vs. 23%-31%) versus waitlist. They also registered greater improvement on most neuropsychological performance and attentional scores.

Finally, another study compared the efficacy of MBCT plus treatment as usual (TAU) versus TAU only in reducing core symptoms in adults with ADHD. Participants were randomly assigned to an 8-weekly group therapy including meditation exercises, psycho education, and group discussions, or to TAU only, including pharmacotherapy and/or psycho education. At 6-month follow-up, MBCT+TAU patients reported large (SMD = .79) improvements in ADHD symptoms relative to TAU patients.

Overall, these are promising results for mindfulness-based interventions, and all the more so for those who do not respond well to drug therapy. Nevertheless, they must be seen as tentative. The sum total of participants over all thirten studies was just 753, or an average of only 58 per study. There was too much variation in the studies to perform a meta-analysis. Only one of the studies included a healthy (non-ADHD) control group. And only one study received a perfect sce by Cochrane Collaboration standards.  Most studies did not use a suitable control group, i.e., on in which there was an expectation of benefit from participating.  As the authors noted, “Attrition bias was found to have high or unclear risk in more than a half of the studies. The reason for dropout of participants was not always clearly specified in those studies, so it is difficult to decide if it might be related to adverse effects or to some discomfort with treatment or instead to some incidental reasons.”

March 4, 2021

Can ADHD be Treated With Mindfulness-Based Interventions?

How effective are mindfulness-based interventions in treating attention deficit symptoms?

Mindfulness has been defined as “intentionally directing attention to present moment experiences with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance.” Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) aim to improve mindfulness skills.

A newly-published meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) by a team of British neurologists and psychiatrists explores the effectiveness of MBIs in treating a variety of mental health conditions in children and adolescents. Among those conditions is the attention deficit component of ADHD.

A comprehensive literature search identified studies that met the following criteria:

1)    The effects of mindfulness were compared against a control condition – either no contact, waitlist, active, or attention placebo. The waitlist means the control group receives the same treatment after the study concludes. Active control means that a known, effective treatment (as opposed to a placebo) is compared to an experimental treatment. Attention placebo means that controls receive a treatment that mimics the time and attention received by the treatment group but is believed not to have a specific effect on the subjects. Participants were randomly assigned to the control condition.

2)    The MBI was delivered in more than one session by a trained mindfulness teacher, involved sustained meditation practice, and it was not mixed in with another activity such as yoga.

Eight studies evaluating attention deficit symptoms, with a combined total of 1,158 participants, met inclusion criteria. The standardized mean difference (SMD) was 0.19, with a 95% confidence range of 0.04 to 0.34 (p = .02). That indicates a small effect size for MBIs in reducing attention deficit symptoms. Heterogeneity was low (I2 = 35, p =.15), and the Egger test showed little sign of publication bias (p = 0.42).

When looking only at studies with active controls, five studies with a total of 787 participants yielded an SMD of 0.13, with a 95% confidence interval of -0.01 to 0.28 (p = .06), indicating a tiny effect size that failed to reach significance. Active controls most commonly received health education, with a few receiving social responsibility training or  Hatha yoga.

Overall, this meta-analysis suggests limited effectiveness, especially when compared with active controls.  If MBIs are effective for ADHD, their effect on symptoms is very small.  Thus, such treatments should not be used in place of the many well-validated, evidenced-based therapies available. Whether longer periods of MBI (training times varied between 2 and 18 hours spread out over 2 to 24 weeks) might result in greater effect sizes remains unexplored

March 2, 2021