Wednesday, June 4, 2014

HOW MINDFULNESS TREATS ADHD

An ever-increasing body of research suggests that mindfulness may help both children and adults cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and its adult equivalent. I intend only to refer to three studies in this post, but there are several others.

In 2007 researchers at UCLA published the results of a study in The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry which found that the incidence of ADHD among teenagers in Finland, along with difficulties in cognitive functioning and related emotional disorders such as depression, were virtually identical to rates among teenagers in the United States of America. Now, what, according to the researchers, was the only meaningful difference? Wait for it. Hold your breath. Well, the majority of adolescents with ADHD in the US were taking medication whereas most in Finland were not. Interesting, that.

‘It raises questions about using medication as a first line of treatment,’ said Professor Susan L Smalley [pictured above], a behaviour geneticist at UCLA and the lead author.

Also in 2007, an article published in The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry gave the results of a large study which found that while most young people with ADHD benefit from medications in the first year, the effects generally wane by the third year if not sooner. ‘There are no long-term, lasting benefits from taking ADHD medications,’ said James M Swanson [pictured below], a professor of paediatrics at the University of California-Irvine, and an author of the study.

No long-term, lasting benefits from taking ADHD medications. That doesn’t surprise me at all.

Now, before you start sharpening your knives to kill me you need to know this. Swanson is the author or co-author of a huge number of scholarly refereed journal articles on the subjects of ADHD and ADD. He is renowned as a leader in the field. He has investigated the biochemical and genetic factors related to ADHD for many years. He has developed procedures for monitoring the cognitive effect of stimulant medication, the most frequent treatment for this group of patients. He has undertaken long-term follow-up studies to evaluate the risk and protective factors for adverse outcomes of ADHD children as they mature. Additionally, he has developed clinical treatment programs based on intensive behavioural intervention for children with ADHD and related disorders in a school-based treatment program. So, he's no slouch. Far from it. And what did he say again:

‘There are no long-term, lasting benefits from taking ADHD medications.'

OK. Well, just how does mindfulness actually assist those with ADHD, apart from in the more obvious ways that we already know as respects the beneficial psycho-physiological effects of Mindfulness. ‘Mindfulness seems to be training the same areas of the brain that have reduced activity in ADHD,’ says Swanson. Now, here’s the really important part: ‘That’s why mindfulness might be so important. It seems to get at the causes.’

Mindfulness enhances a person’s cognitive control. The latter manifests in a number of important ways including the ability to delay gratification, manage impulses, suppress extraneous thoughts, regulate one’s emotions, concentrate, and otherwise pay attention. Of all the factors that help to ensure success both in school and in work life, good cognitive control is generally recognized as being the most important one.

Mindfulness is one of the best---if not the best---way of enhancing and increasing a person’s cognitive control, thus providing a frontline treatment for, and day-to-day means of self-management of,  treating ADHD and ADD.

Finally, a recent (2014) report in the scholarly journal Clinical Neurophysiology indicated that adults with ADD benefitted from mindfulness training combined with cognitive therapy; their improvements in mental performance were comparable to those achieved by subjects taking medications.


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