March 15, 2024

Two New Meta-analyses Evaluate Digital Interventions for Treating ADHD

There is increasing interest in digital interventions to treat ADHD symptoms and to overcome deficits in executive functioning that are associated with this disorder. Executive functions such as working memory and cognitive speed originate in the frontal lobes of the brain, and guide voluntary goal-directed behavior. They affect reading speed and accuracy, reading comprehension, attention, and impulse control, among other behaviors important to the ability to function in social, educational, and professional environments.

A Swedish study team based at Umeå University recently conducted a systematic search of the medical literature to explore the efficacy of computerized cognitive training (CCT) to improve executive functioning in adults with ADHD.

They included published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving adults 18 to 65 years old with a primary diagnosis of ADHD. The controls were participants with either a passive (wait-list) or active (modified simple training) intervention.

Nine RCTs with a combined total of 285 participants met inclusion criteria. Lumping together all cognitive outcome types, meta-analysis reported a small effect size improvement that was just barely statistically significant (p = .048, with p < .05 as the boundary).

However, when separated out by individual outcome types – executive functioning, cognitive speed, general short-term memory, or ADHD symptom severity – the meta-analyses found no improvements that reached statistical significance. 

Moreover, all RCTs except one were judged as high risk of bias.

While it is possible that additional studies enlarging the pool of participants could lead to statistical significance, all effect sizes were small to begin with, which is not encouraging.

The team concluded, “Considering the small positive effect in this meta-analysis for overall cognitive outcomes, together with the lack of evidence for far transfer, practitioners and individuals with ADHD should weigh the costs (resources and time) against the benefits of training.”

A South Korean study team recently concluded the first RCT-only meta-analysis of game-based digital therapeutics (DTx).

Combining 14 RCTs with a total of 1,183 participants, they found a small effect size improvement in parent-rated attention symptoms for game-based DTx interventions over controls. Nine RCTs combining 424 participants likewise found a small effect size improvement in teacher-rated attention symptoms. Between-study variation (heterogeneity) was negligible, and there was no indication of publication bias.

Combining five RCTs with a total of 256 participants, they reported small effect size improvements in both parent and teacher-rated hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms. But they found no improvement in hyperactivity symptoms alone, whether evaluated by parents or teachers. Heterogeneity was in all instances negligible, with no sign of publication bias. 

The team then compared game-based DTx interventions with pharmaceutical treatment. 

ADHD medications outperformed game-based DTx interventions for improvement of attention symptoms in both parent (four RCTs with a total of 128 participants) and teacher (three RCTs with 92 participants) ratings, with small-to-medium effect sizes. Medications likewise prevailed in improving hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, whether rated by parents or teachers, with small-to-medium effect sizes.

The team concluded, “This study is the first direct and indirect meta-analysis to compare the efficacy of game-based DTx between control and medication according to the assessor in an RCT. In conclusion, game-based DTx had a more significant effect than the control. Additionally, between medication treatment versus DTx, medication was more effective.”

Pia Elbe, Christian Bäcklund, Mariana Vega-Mendoza, Daniel Sörman, Hanna Malmberg Gavelin, Lars Nyberg, and Jessica K. Ljungberg, “Computerized Cognitive Interventions for Adults With ADHD: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Neuropsychology (2023),

SuA Oh, Jina Choi, Doug Hyun Han, and EunYoung Kim, “Effects of game-based digital therapeutics on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents as assessed by parents or teachers: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2023),

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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