Non-invasive brain stimulation, combined with cognitive training, can significantly improve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, according to new research conducted jointly by the University of Surrey in the UK, Assuta-Ashdod University Medical Center and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem ( HU).
ADHD is a brain disorder that affects people’s attention, activity and impulsivity. Around 5.2% of children worldwide have the condition, which usually presents in children who struggle with focus, memory and self-control.
In a clinical trial involving 23 children (ages six to 12) with ADHD who were not receiving medication for it, researchers set out to find out whether a new form of brain stimulation during cognitive training using a mild electrical current of the brain through two electrodes can improve their symptoms.
The study will soon be published in the journal Translational psychiatry.
After a two-week program of brain stimulation, the researchers found that 55% of children showed significant clinical improvements in ADHD symptoms as reported by their parents. This was compared to 17% in the control group who received placebo brain stimulation during cognitive training.
The study also found that these improvements were maintained for at least three weeks after the end of treatment, with 64 percent reporting clinically meaningful responses to the treatments. This was compared to 33% in the control group.
What the researchers in the study had to say
Dr. Mor Nahum, head of HU’s Computerized Neurotherapy Laboratory, who co-led the study, said that “this is an important first step in providing new therapeutic options for ADHD. Future studies with larger and more varied samples should help establish this as a viable therapy for ADHD and help us understand the underlying mechanisms of the disorder.”
Cognitive neuroscience Prof. Roi Cohen Kadosh, who also led the research and is head of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “I believe the scientific community is committed to researching and developing increasingly effective and longer-lasting treatments for ADHD. Our results suggest that a combination of transcranial direct current stimulation (tRNS), which is safe with minimal side effects, has the potential to transform the lives of children and their families.”
“The results of this proof-of-concept study, together with previous results obtained with tRNS, increase our confidence that in the future non-invasive brain stimulation may be able to provide an alternative to medication as a treatment pathway for children,” said authors. “However, our important test will be the results of a multicenter, clinical trial with a larger sample that we will start soon. If successful, this approach will be approved as a medical device for ADHD by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
After the treatment, the research team also noticed changes in the electrical activity patterns of the children’s brains, which persisted even at the 3-week follow-up.
Prof. Itai Berger, also the leader of the study, who was head of the pediatric neurology unit at Hadassah-University Medical Center and is currently at Assuta-Ashdod University Medical Center, said that “if the results are repeated in future larger studies, we will be in able to offer a new, promising non-invasive and safe treatment to a large number of children and their families, not only in the field of ADHD, but also for other neurodevelopmental disorders.” Ornella Dakwar-Kawar, a post-doctoral researcher from HU, explained that “ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children. While treating the condition with medication improves a child’s attention and overall mood, it causes in some cases, side effects, including headache and loss of appetite.There is therefore an urgent need to develop and test new, non-pharmacological interventions for ADHD.Results from the current proof-of-concept study provide preliminary direction towards a new intervention in pediatric ADHD.”
“ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children. While treating the condition with medication improves a child’s attention and overall mood, in some cases it causes side effects, including headaches and loss of appetite.”