Non-invasive brain stimulation, combined with cognitive training, could significantly improve symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, according to new research jointly conducted by the University of Surrey in the UK and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU).
ADHD is a brain condition that affects people’s attention, activity, and impulsivity. Around 5.2% of children worldwide have the condition, which usually presents itself in children who struggle with focus, memory, and self-control.
In a clinical trial involving 23 children aged six to 12 years old) with ADHD who were not receiving medication for it, researchers set out to find out whether a novel form of brain stimulation during cognitive training using a mild electrical current on the brain through two electrodes could improve their symptoms.
The study will be published soon 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 the treatment, with 64 percent reporting clinically meaningful responses to the treatments. This was compared to 33% in the control group.
What the researchers of the study had to say
Dr. Mor Nahum, head of HU’s computerized neurotherapy lab who co-headed the study, said that “this is an important first step in offering 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 co-led the research and is head of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “I believe that the scientific community is duty bound to investigate and develop evermore effective and longer-lasting treatments for ADHD. Our findings 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 from this proof-of-concept study, together with previous results received using 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,” the authors said. “However, our important test will be the results from a multi-center, 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).”
Following the treatment, the research team also noticed changes in the children’s brain electrical activity patterns that continued even at the 3-week follow-up.
Prof. Itai Berger, also a leader of the study who was the 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 replicated in future larger studies, we will be able to offer a novel, promising non-invasive, and safe treatment to large number of children and their families not only in the field of ADHD but in other neuro-developmental disorders.” Ornella Dakwar-Kawar, a HU post-doctoral researcher, explained that “ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children. While treating the condition with medication improves a child’s attention span and overall mood, in certain cases, it causes side effects including headache and a loss of appetite. There is therefore a pressing need for developing and testing novel, non-pharmacological interventions for ADHD. Results from the current proof-of-concept study provide a preliminary direction towards a novel 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 span and overall mood, in certain cases, it causes side effects including headache and a loss of appetite.”