One of the largest issues affecting children and their ability to learn is the mental disorder Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Males are more than three times more likely to develop the disorder than females and estimates are that over the course of a lifetime, 12.9% of men will be diagnosed with ADHD at some point, compared to only 4.9% of women in the same period. The average age for diagnosis is 7 years old, but there is a correlation between the severity of the disorder and diagnosis at a younger age. In children who have a severe manifestation of the disorder, the average age for diagnosis is 5 years of age
It’s troubling to parents, to the children who suffer from it and to the school systems who have to find new ways to educate children with ADHD. Medication is an option, but the use of stimulants is controversial and parents and medical professionals are always looking for better options than medication alone. A program that started at Yale University in New Haven Connecticut hopes to provide families who deal with ADHD with a new drug free program of brain training and physical exercise to improve focus and hopefully academic and social success as well.
Dr. Bruce Wexler, Professor Emeritus at Yale and Senior Research Scientist in Psychiatry was the recipient of the NIH Transformative Research Award in 2011 and received a grant from the NIH Director’s Award program for a four year study on the efficacy of a brain based video training system that combined gaming with physical exercise to enhance neuroplasticity in children ages 5-9 years old.
The grant provided Dr. Wexler with the means to put his program, called Activate, into 220 schools, first in Connecticut and then across the country. The results have been positive so far, with many students showing increases in cognition and focus after using the program. It combines a video game where the players get rewards and can “level up” when they make correct choices in the course of the game. In addition, there is a physical activity component as well. Dr. Wexler told WTNH-8 News recently, “Just like when you go to the gym and you work out a muscle, same thing. The brain actually re-organizes itself and brings more neuro resources in to neuro systems that are active. We designed physical exercises that have cognitive components so they engage the same target neurosystems as do our computer exercises. But now in the context of whole body activity and social interaction.”
One of the benefits of the program according to Wexler is that if a child tries it, and for whatever reason it doesn’t provide any improvement, there are no side effects, no medication tapering or weaning and the only thing lost is the time the child spends using the program. Check out the video below to hear more from Dr. Wexler about the Activate program and how it might be used to increase neuroplasticity in children and improve outcomes without the use of medication.
Sources: WTNH-8 News Yale University
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