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

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

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

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

Findings from the First Study

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

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

Findings from the Second Study

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

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

Important Points to Remember

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

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

Conclusion

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

Guangbo Qu, Wenjing Hu, Jia Meng, Xingyue Wang, Wenqi Su, Haixia Liu, Shaodi Ma, Chenyu Sun, Christy Huang, Scott Lowe, Yehuan Sun, “Association between screen time and developmental and behavioral problems among children in the United States: evidence from 2018 to 2020 NSCH,” Journal of Psychiatric Research (2023), 161, 140-149, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2023.03.014

Helal Uddin and Khalid Hasan, “Family resilience and neighborhood factors affect the association between digital media use and mental health among children: does sleep mediate the association?”, European Journal of Pediatrics (2023), https://doi.org/10.1007/s00431-023-04898-1.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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