A new brain-zapping technology may help ease the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children without some of the side effects stimulant medications can cause, a small, preliminary study suggests.
Marked by trouble concentrating, sitting still and/or controlling impulsive behaviors, ADHD affects about 5.3 million children, according to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).
The new technology, called transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS), involves placing two electrodes on the brain where they emit a mild, painless electrical current. The study was funded by Tech Innosphere Engineering Ltd., the device manufacturer.
“A novel form of noninvasive, safe and painless brain stimulation led to a significant effect on ADHD symptoms reduction that persisted three weeks after the end of the intervention,” said study author Roi Cohen Kadosh, head of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey in England.
Still, the new technology is not ready for prime time yet, he added. “The results are promising, but we need to extend it to a larger population of patients, which we are planning to start this year,” Cohen Kadosh said.
Exactly how the technology works to reduce ADHD symptoms isn’t fully understood yet, added study author Mor Nahum, head of the Computerized Neurotherapy Lab at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“In ADHD kids, we know that some of the frontal brain areas may be less active than that of non-ADHD children,” she said. “With noninvasive brain stimulation, we can stimulate the brain using sponge electrodes to try and increase the activity of these underactive brain areas.”
The study included 23 kids aged 6 to 12 with ADHD who were not taking medication to control their symptoms. Half of the kids underwent brain stimulation for 10 days while playing cognitive training video games. The other half received “sham” stimulation while playing the games. Cognitive training video games are designed to help strengthen attention.
Fully 55% of children who received active brain stimulation showed improvements in ADHD symptoms based on a standard scale and as reported by their parents. By contrast, only 17% of kids in the sham group showed such improvements in their ADHD symptoms, the study showed.
These improvements were maintained three weeks after treatment ended. What’s more, changes in the children’s brain electrical activity patterns continued even after three weeks, the researchers reported.
“If replicated, this could potentially serve as a novel treatment option for ADHD, which can accompany or replace existing treatments,” Nahum said.
There were minimal side effects seen with the treatment, mainly mild discomfort during stimulation such as itching and tingling, she said.
The study was published Aug. 2 in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
ADHD experts were cautiously optimistic about the role that this type of brain stimulation may play in treating the disorder in the future.
Dr. Francisco Castellanos is a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.
“The results are encouraging, and the effects are quite intriguing, but it will take a long time to figure out if this technology has a major impact on clinical outcomes in ADHD,” Castellanos said. “This won’t be ready for prime time until it works in other people’s hands.”
Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, a professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral health at Ohio State University College of Medicine, agreed.
“This is feasible and shows promise, but it needs more study,” he said.
Arnold’s advice for people with ADHD? “See a specialist for professional guidance and volunteer for studies of new treatments like this,” he said. “This is the only way we are going to find out if this works and elucidate how it is helpful.”
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) has more on ADHD treatments.
SOURCES: Roi Cohen Kadosh, PhD, head, School of Psychology, and professor, cognitive neuroscience, University of Surrey, Surrey, U.K; Mor Nahum, PhD, head, Computerized Neurotherapy Lab, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Francisco Castellanos, MD, Brooke and Daniel Neidich Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU Grossman School of Medicine, New York City; L. Eugene Arnold, MD, professor emeritus, psychiatry and behavioral health, Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus; Translational Psychiatry, Aug. 2, 2023
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