February 9, 2024

Nationwide Population Study Finds Cancer Survivors Have Much Higher Risk of ADHD

Thanks to improvements in cancer treatment, there is a growing population of childhood and adolescent cancer survivors (CACSs). CACSs are at an increased risk of chronic physical, psychological, and social problems because of their cancer experiences and intensive cancer treatments. These include depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

To what extent, if at all, does this also apply to ADHD? Noting that “previous studies … have reported inconsistent findings,” a local research team took advantage of Taiwan’s mandatory single-payer National Health Insurance that covers over 99% of the island’s population. More specifically, the National Health Insurance Research Database (NHIRD) maintains data on the insured population available on formal request for study purposes.

Linking the catastrophic illness database, mental disorders database, and longitudinal health insurance database, they tracked children age younger than 10 years and adolescents aged 11-17 years who were diagnosed with any malignancy (cancer) between 2002 and 2011 with no history of major psychiatric disorders (including ADHD). Parental history of major psychiatric disorders was likewise controlled as a potential confounder.

The team identified 5,121 CACSs, which they matched one to ten with 51,210 age-, sex-, income-, and residence-matched cancer-free controls.

ADHD diagnoses were made by board-certified psychiatrists during the study follow-up period (from enrollment through 2011) based on a comprehensive clinical interview and clinical judgment. 

Cancer survivors were diagnosed with ADHD at more than six times the rate of matched controls. Survival duration made no significant difference in this outcome. 

Cancers of bone, connective tissue, skin, and breast were associated with a more than threefold increase in risk of an ADHD diagnosis. For cancers of the circulatory system, there was a more than sixfold increased risk of ADHD, and for those of the genitourinary organs, more than sevenfold increased risk. 

For brain cancer survivors, the increased risk of ADHD was more than twelvefold. That may be at least in part because the brain itself was targeted for treatment in these instances, which plausibly could cause damage resulting in psychiatric disorders.

The team concluded, “we observed a comparatively higher risk of MPDs [major psychiatric disorders] among CACSs than among controls and likewise found that such risks varied across different cancer types. Survivors of both CNS [central nervous system] and non-CNS cancers have increased risks of MPD diagnoses. Among the enrolled CACSs, ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and ADHD were associated with most types/categories of cancers. Long-term care of this vulnerable population must include psychosocial interventions for patients and their families. Physicians need to be aware of early signs of mental health problems in this high-risk subpopulation and arrange early interventions accordingly.”

Tien-Wei Hsu, Chih-Sung Liang, Shih-Jen Tsai, Ya-Mei Bai, Tung-Ping Su, Tzeng-Ji Chen, MD, and Mu-Hong Chen, “Risk of Major Psychiatric Disorders Among Children and Adolescents Surviving Malignancies: A Nationwide Longitudinal Study,” Journal of Clinical Oncology (2023), Vol. 41, Issue 11, 2054-2066, https://doi.org/10.1200/jco.22.01189.

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News Tuesday: Fidgeting and ADHD

A recent study delved into the connection between fidgeting and cognitive performance in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Recognizing that hyperactivity often manifests as fidgeting, the researchers sought to understand its role in attention and performance during cognitively demanding tasks. They designed a framework to quantify meaningful fidgeting variables using actigraphy devices.

(Note: Actigraphy is a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest/activity cycles. It involves the use of a small, wearable device called an actigraph or actimetry sensor, typically worn on the wrist, similar to a watch. The actigraph records movement data over extended periods, often days to weeks, to track sleep patterns, activity levels, and circadian rhythms. In this study, actigraphy devices were used to measure fidgeting by recording the participants' movements continuously during the cognitive task. This data provided objective, quantitative measures of fidgeting, allowing the researchers to analyze its relationship with attention and task performance.)

The study involved 70 adult participants aged 18-50, all diagnosed with ADHD. Participants underwent a thorough screening process, including clinical interviews and ADHD symptom ratings. The analysis revealed that fidgeting increased during correct trials, particularly in participants with consistent reaction times, suggesting that fidgeting helps sustain attention. Interestingly, fidgeting patterns varied between early and later trials, further highlighting its role in maintaining focus over time.

Additionally, a correlation analysis validated the relevance of the newly defined fidget variables with ADHD symptom severity. This finding suggests that fidgeting may act as a compensatory mechanism for individuals with ADHD, aiding in their ability to maintain attention during tasks requiring cognitive control.

This study provides valuable insights into the role of fidgeting in adults with ADHD, suggesting that it may help sustain attention during challenging cognitive tasks. By introducing and validating new fidget variables, the researchers hope to standardize future quantitative research in this area. Understanding the compensatory role of fidgeting can lead to better management strategies for ADHD, emphasizing the potential benefits of movement for maintaining focus.

July 16, 2024

Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

NEWS TUESDAY: Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

A recent study investigated the presence of autistic-like symptoms in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Given the overlapping social difficulties in both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), distinguishing between the two disorders can be challenging. This study aims to pinpoint specific patterns of autistic symptoms in children with ADHD, comparing them to those with ASD using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd edition (ADOS-2).

The research involved 43 school-age children divided into two groups:

  • ADHD Group (25 children): Initially referred for ASD symptoms but later diagnosed with ADHD.
  • ASD Group (18 children): Children diagnosed with ASD.

Researchers used ADOS-2 to evaluate differences in communication deficits, social interaction challenges, and repetitive behaviors between the two groups. The study also compared IQ, age, ADOS-2 domain scores, and externalizing/internalizing problems.

Key Findings:

  • Significant differences were found between the ADHD and ASD groups in ADOS-2 domain scores, including Social Affect, Restricted and Repetitive Behavior, and Total Score.
  • On an individual item level, children with ADHD displayed similar atypical behaviors as those with ASD in social-communication areas such as "Pointing" and "Gestures".
  • Both groups showed comparable frequencies in behaviors like "Stereotyped/idiosyncratic words or phrases", "Mannerisms", and "Repetitive interests and behaviors".

The study highlights the importance of identifying transdiagnostic domains that overlap between ADHD and ASD. The transdiagnostic domain refers to a set of symptoms or behaviors that are common across multiple diagnostic categories rather than being specific to just one. Identifying these domains in mental health practice and in psychological research is crucial to understanding, properly diagnosing, and treating conditions with overlapping features. This understanding could pave the way for tailored treatments addressing the specific needs of children with ADHD, particularly those exhibiting autistic-like symptoms.

July 9, 2024

Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

NEW STUDY: Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults is commonly treated with stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines. However, not all patients respond well to these stimulants or tolerate them effectively. For such cases, non-stimulant medications provide an alternative treatment approach.

Recent research by Brancati et al. reviews the efficacy and safety of non-stimulant medications for adult ADHD. Atomoxetine, a well-studied non-stimulant, has shown significant effectiveness in treating ADHD symptoms in adults. The review highlights the importance of considering dosage, treatment duration, safety, and the presence of psychiatric comorbidities when prescribing atomoxetine.

Additionally, certain antidepressants, including tricyclic compounds, bupropion, and viloxazine, which possess noradrenergic or dopaminergic properties, have demonstrated efficacy in managing adult ADHD. Antihypertensive medications, especially guanfacine, have also been found effective. Other medications like memantine, metadoxine, and mood stabilizers show promise, whereas treatments like galantamine, antipsychotics, and cannabinoids have not yielded positive results.

The expert opinion section of the review emphasizes that while clinical guidelines primarily recommend atomoxetine as a second-line treatment, several other non-stimulant options can be utilized to tailor treatments based on individual patient needs and comorbid conditions. Despite these advancements, the authors call for further research to develop and refine more personalized treatment strategies for adults with ADHD.

This review underscores the growing landscape of non-stimulant treatment options, offering hope for more personalized and effective management of ADHD in adults.

June 25, 2024