Mindfulness may be better than medication in treating ADHD

by Grace

Mindfulness, typically practiced through meditation, may be better than medication in overcoming the adverse effects of ADHD.

Medication does not offer long-term benefits for ADHD, but mindfulness does.

In a large study published last year in The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers reported that while most young people with A.D.H.D. benefit from medications in the first year, these effects generally wane by the third year, if not sooner.

“There are no long-term, lasting benefits from taking A.D.H.D. medications,” said James M. Swanson, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, and an author of the study. “But mindfulness seems to be training the same areas of the brain that have reduced activity in A.D.H.D.”

Strengthening cognitive control may help in treating ADHD.

What is cognitive control?

Depending on which scientist is speaking, cognitive control may be defined as the delay of gratification, impulse management, emotional self-regulation or self-control, the suppression of irrelevant thoughts, and paying attention or learning readiness.

Level of cognitive control typically changes over a person’s lifetime.

Cognitive control increases from about 4 to 12 years old, then plateaus … Teenagers find it difficult to suppress their impulses, as any parent knows.

But impulsivity peaks around age 16 … and in their 20s most people achieve adult levels of cognitive control. Among healthy adults, it begins to wane noticeably in the 70s or 80s, often manifesting as an inability to remember names or words, because of distractions that the mind once would have suppressed.

What is mindfulness …

…  mindfulness: teaching people to monitor their thoughts and feelings without judgments or other reactivity. Rather than simply being carried away from a chosen focus, they notice that their attention has wandered, and renew their concentration.

… and how does it help in sustaining attention?

Mindfulness seems to flex the brain circuitry for sustaining attention, an indicator of cognitive control …

… appeared to strengthen the neural circuitry for keeping attention on a chosen point of focus.

Meditation is a cognitive control exercise that enhances “the ability to self-regulate your internal distractions,” …

Video games that mimic these effects are being studied, with promising results.

Are you skeptical?

Stephen Hinshaw, a specialist in developmental psychopathology at the University of California, Berkeley, said the time was ripe to explore the utility of nondrug interventions like mindfulness.

Dr. Swanson agreed. “I was a skeptic until I saw the data,” he said, “and the findings are promising.”

My own experimentation with meditation convinced me that it offers a way of improving focus and attention.  Now the question is, how do you convince a 14-year old to meditate?

Related:  Quick Links – The ‘science’ of psychiatry (Cost of College)

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Daniel Goleman May, “Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits”, New York Times, May 12, 2014.

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