Children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, a neurodevelopment disruption that affects 5 to 7 percent of school-aged children, may be able to train their brains to focus through a computer game, a study found.
The study was written by a team of clinicians from Tufts Medical Center and Harvard School of Public Health. It was published Monday in a children’s health journal called Pediatrics. The findings show that some symptoms of ADHD can be reduced through cognitive computer training and neurofeedback, a therapy in which doctors teach children how to keep their brains focused.
“The outcomes of these analyses are promising,” the study said. “Parents of children in the neurofeedback condition reported sustained improvements six months after the intervention.”
“Even after the intervention had stopped,” the study added, “parents continued to notice improvements in response to both interventions.”
The study included 104 children attending elementary schools in the Greater Boston area. The children wore a standard bicycle helmet with a brain sensor attached to measure the presence of beta and theta waves and allow children to visualize their brain activity, according to the study.
Over the course of five months, children participated in 45-minute intervention sessions three times a week, where they met with specialists who helped them understand their brain waves and learn how to focus their attention.
“Participants score points on the computer program and learn to improve attention on the six different exercises,” the study stated. “Through practice, participants learn to manipulate the figures on the screen, resulting in suppression of theta and an increase in beta activity.”
While the results of the study showed a decrease in ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity and impulse-related behaviors, hyperactivity was not among the symptoms originally targeted in the study.
“Nevertheless, these findings suggest that when children’s focus increases, physical activity is reduced,” the study said.
Dr. Thor C. Bergersen, a psychiatrist and founder of ADHD Boston, said neurofeedback is an effective means of measuring brain activities and helping children understand ADHD.
“We’ve seen [benefits of neurofeedback] in our practice too,” he said. “Neurofeedback is like measuring our blood pressure or heart rate, except using your brain’s electrical activity. That has been around for a long time, but there haven’t been studies to show if it is effective or not.”
Bergersen said neurofeedback and cognitive training can also provide patients with effective treatment when combined with other methods, despite the lack of research done on combining treatment techniques.
“It’s clinically validating that neurofeedback is helpful for some things and cognitive training is helpful for other things,” he said. “All of these parts of a puzzle, medication, treatment and stimulant treatment, are part of what helps kids. Having cognitive therapy and neurofeedback is a piece of that puzzle to completely help kids with ADHD.”
Several residents said the results in this study are helpful to children with ADHD and will help them as they grow physically and intellectually.
Sean Buckley, 26, of Brighton, said using visual aspects and computer training are useful techniques.
“Seeing things on a screen is much more effective than someone just telling you to focus,” he said. “Having a visual [for cognitive training] is helpful. Adults probably wouldn’t pay as much attention to [the game aspect] or buy into it. It’s better to start younger while the brain is still developing.”
Trish Ryan, 56, of Brighton, said neurofeedback and other similar treatments could allow children with ADHD to lead normal lives.
“[Neurofeedback] is great because it’s able to treat children without chemical intervention,” she said. “The treatment could help children by giving them better self esteem that would increase their productivity and allow them to achieve better, socially and academically.”
Sumayyah Browder, 20, of Dorchester, said these new findings could give children with ADHD better opportunities to succeed in school.
“It is important to understand symptoms and catch it when children are young,” she said. “It gives them confidence that they can learn the same material and concepts like any other child. My nephew is three and shows some symptoms of ADHD, so it could potentially help children like him.”