To medicate or not? Millions of parents must decide when their child is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – a decision made tougher by controversy. Studies increasingly show that while medication may calm a child’s behavior, it does not improve grades, peer relationships or defiant behavior over the long term.
Consequently, researchers have focused attention on the disorder’s neurobiology. Recent studies support the notion that many children with ADHD have cognitive deficits, specifically in working memory.
In the 1980s, two English researchers named Baddeley and Hitch coined the term “working memory” for the ability to hold several facts or thoughts in memory temporarily while solving a problem or performing a task.
Working memory deficits may underlie several disabilities, not just ADHD, scientists say.
“Working memory is a bottleneck for everyday functioning independent of what category you fit into,” comments Torkel Klingberg, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Based on Klingberg’s research, Karolinska founded Cogmed – a biotech company that has developed a software program to train working memory.
The computer game has been shown to reduce ADHD symptoms in children in experiments conducted in Sweden, where it was developed, and more recently in a Granger school, where it was tested by psychologists from the University of Notre Dame. In a recent paper in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Klingberg reported that 60 percent of 20 unmedicated ADHD children no longer met the clinical criteria for ADHD after five weeks of training.
Other tests found significant improvement in working memory.
The Notre Dame’s study is considered preliminary because it involved a small number of students. Another limitation is that the study did not have a control group of students receiving a placebo treatment.