21st Century Television: Rising Rate of ADHD Needs New Treatments

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was the subject of a recent episode of the 21st Century Television health program. Looking at possible treatment options, 21st Century Television interviewed Dr. Jay Wiley, MD, Chairman and Founder of Focus-MD, a company that is on the forefront of treating ADHD.

“We are very evidence based. We want the scientific evidence base to be present in everything we do from diagnosis into treatment and follow up,” said Dr. Wiley in describing his company’s approach in helping those with the symptoms of ADHD and related disorders.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood brain disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood.” The symptoms can include difficulty paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity. Although the symptoms can range in severity, adults and children afflicted with the condition have problems succeeding in school, getting along with other adults and children, and finishing common tasks around the home.

Research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found approximately 6.4 million people in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD, with children comprising the vast majority of those diagnosed, at approximately 89% of those afflicted. Between 2003 and 2012, there was a 42% increase in the rate of diagnosis of ADHD.

Two researchers have made a potentially groundbreaking discovery in neuroscience. John Gaspar, a doctoral student working under associate professor of psychology and Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience John McDonald, recently released an interesting discovery as part of his master’s thesis research. In potentially revolutionary findings that may help experts better understand ADHD, psychologists identified certain mechanisms in the brain that humans use to avoid distractions.

As part of his research at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Gaspar analyzed the performance of 47 students with an average age of 21 as they performed an attention-demanding visual search task. Researchers recorded the participants’ electrical brain signals, which provided data related to attention, distraction, and suppression.

This is the first study to reveal our brains rely on an active suppression mechanism to avoid distracting information.

“This is an important discovery for neuroscientists and psychologists because most contemporary ideas of attention highlight brain processes that are involved in picking out relevant objects from the visual field. It’s like finding Waldo in a Where’s Waldo illustration,” said Gaspar, the study’s lead author.

In another study recently released online in Pediatrics, children with ADHD are three times more likely to have language problems than children without ADHD.

The research studied children between six and eight years of age, both with and without ADHD in Australia.

“We found that 40 percent of children in the ADHD group had language problems, compared to 17 percent of children in the ‘control’ group,” said Emma Sciberras, a clinical psychologist and post-doctoral research fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Victoria, Australia. “Rates of language problems were similar in boys and girls with ADHD,” she added.

Language problems refer to spoken language, both receptive and expressive. Receptive language is the ability to listen and understand what’s being said; expressive is the ability to speak and be understood.

In a separate study in the same issue of the journal, Sciberras and her colleagues looked at almost 400 children with ADHD, aged five to thirteen, and found almost two-thirds had one or more anxiety disorders.

“It is very common for children with ADHD to experience additional difficulties,” said Sciberras. “Both of these studies demonstrate that the additional difficulties that go along with ADHD, in this case anxiety and language problems, can make daily functioning even harder for children with ADHD.”

In speaking exclusively to 21st Century Television, Dr. Camille Washington, MD, Executive Director of the Community Awareness Development Alliance, described some of the problems faced by those suffering with undiagnosed ADHD.

“Untreated ADHD kids have trouble paying attention in class and sitting still. So even though they are very bright they can struggle with grades and also have trouble with impulsivity. This can lead to problems with saying or doing things before they have a chance to think about it,” said Dr. Washington.

Another breakthrough in ADHD diagnosis was recently announced by a team including Dr. Qiyong Gong of West China Hospital of Sichuan University, in Chengdu, China. In a study published in the journal Radiology, the research team announced that resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rfMRI) could be useful in providing early and accurate diagnosis of ADHD.

The team found that subjects had altered structure in function in certain areas of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal cortex and globus pallidus, which involve strategic planning and executive inhibitory control, respectively.

Dr. Gong said these findings show there may be more widespread brain impairments involved in ADHD than had previously been shown.

“Our results suggest the potential clinical utility of the rfMRI changes as a useful marker, which may help in diagnosis and in monitoring disease progression and, consequently, may inform timely clinical intervention in the future,” said Dr. Gong.

This research is of increasing importance given the growing trend of ADHD diagnosis. According to Dr. Wiley, speaking to 21st Century Television, “Ten percent of the population has the neurogenetics of ADHD. That number has been quoted as low as three percent, but most experts would put that between seven and ten percent.”