Local study aims to better treat ADHD without medication

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

head shot of Dr. Tara McCauleyCAMBRIDGE — Medication doesn't help all children with ADHD and the benefits are temporary.

"When it works, it's fantastic," said Dr. Sol Sandberg of Cambridge Memorial Hospital. "But we want something that's longer-lasting and actually translates to helping the child academically and socially."

A study being launched by Sandberg in partnership with the University of Waterloo's Tara McAuley, assistant professor in the psychology department, aims to see if a computer-based program can reduce ADHD symptoms while also improving a child's thinking and academic skills, along with social and emotional functioning.

They're now recruiting youth, aged eight to 16 years old, with concerns related to attention and behaviour to participate in the study.

Medication is currently the best available treatment, but there are side-effects which only treat the symptoms of inattentiveness and restlessness.

"The benefit is temporary and it doesn't result in an enduring change," McAuley said. "It is a highly persistent condition."

The study organizers hope regular sessions with the computer program will help address the underlying cognitive weaknesses, making things better for the children now and into adulthood.

The brain has a great capacity to respond to this type of intervention, they say.

"It can reorganize," said Sandberg, a clinical health psychologist at Cambridge Memorial for 40 years. "It has the ability to change at any age."

A quarter of the children who come to the hospital clinic are dealing with ADHD. Parents often ask what else can be done to help their child, since medication only helps 50 to 70 per cent of patients.

"What do you do with that population of kids where it isn't effective," Sandberg asked.

The computer program is designed to improve working memory, which is the ability to concentrate and keep relevant task information in your mind for a short-time.

When a child does well in a given task, there's encouragement and they move onto the next level.

"Your brain is learning to pay attention to these things and it's helping with your working memory," Sandberg said.

He hopes that learning will also help reading comprehension and math skills, while also giving self-esteem a boost. Best of all, it's designed to look like games.

"Everything is fun," Sandberg said.

The study includes psychological testing before, immediately after and three months after the 10 weeks of treatment. Treatment is half an hour three times a week.

Parking or bus tickets will be provided to all participants and there will be other incentives, from Tim Hortons and iTunes gift cards to an iPad for those who attend most sessions.

For more information, call Sandberg at 519-740-4900.

Waterloo Region Record by Johanna Weidner

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