Of the approximately 6.4 million American children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), some 85% take stimulant drugs like Adderall. (Another 8 million American adults have the disorder, but estimates of their rates of drug use are less clear).
Studies suggest that treating ADHD with stimulant drugs improves symptoms in about 70% of adults and 70% to 80% of children, but there is a risk of side effects that range from minor to debilitating. These include headaches, insomnia, nervousness, weight loss, and in some cases even heart problems. Some people who have been treating their ADHD with stimulants for years say even more serious issues can arise, from anxiety and panic to social isolation. Often, it can feel as though they’re managing two different personalities — one on the medication and one off of it. That’s not mention the other 20% to 30% of people for whom medication either isn’t an option or doesn’t help.
The goal of neurofeedback training in people with ADHD is to pinpoint where the brain was misbehaving and re-balance its activity patterns, says McIntyre. Some new and very preliminary studies using fMRI to measure brain activity in people with ADHD who have done neurofeedback are just beginning to suggest that this is actually what is going on.
“The people who come [to Neurocore] are already at their wits end and struggling because nothing’s working,” says Michelle McIntyre, who worked at Neurocore for four years as an intern, a technician, and a sales representative. McIntyre’s says that during her time as a Neurocore technician, she saw many patients — about half of them children, half adults — with attention issues. Many had previously been diagnosed with ADHD by a physician and were having a rough time finding any treatment that helped alleviate their symptoms.
“Ultimately what we’re trying to do is relieve the symptoms that brought the physician to that diagnosis,” she says. “Ultimately what we’re trying to do is balance the brain.”
David Rabiner, a Duke University professor of neuroscience who practices neurofeedback, maintains that the scientific evidence leans more strongly in favor of conventional, medication-based treatments for people with ADHD than it does for neurofeedback. While there has been an outpouring of recent research on neurofeedback in people with ADHD, the largest and strongest studies remain undecided on whether or not it works. And the studies that do say it works have mixed conclusions about how well.
Two large and promising recent meta-analyses (reviews of studies) examined neurofeedback and ADHD in children. While both concluded that the treatment helped reduce children’s ADHD symptoms, one said it was “probably efficacious” while the other said it was “efficacious and specific.” In the first case, that phrasing corresponds to a level three out of five (3/5) on a scale created to evaluate biofeedback methods (zero is the weakest and five is the strongest). In the second case, the researchers gave it a five out of five (5/5).
A few years after those studies were published, another equally large review came to the opposite conclusion, finding that the “evidence … currently fails to support neurofeedback as an effective treatment for ADHD.”
I know this is a little different than the stuff I normally post here, but I wanted to say something about it.
So what if the science on it is weird? I’m all for trying things that don’t involve drugging our children. If it doesn’t work for one child, then move on to something else. Drugging our kids should be a last resort.
My friend has four children. Two of them are ADHD (although, to be fair, I’m not sure the younger of the two was formally diagnosed, so we won’t discuss her). The older of the two, a boy I believe is about 9, is a swimmer, a very imaginative kid, and really just a nice kid. He has always been extremely high energy, and when he went to school the teachers began pushing to have him diagnosed because he was having trouble making it through the school day without completely losing it.
He was diagnosed and given a medication. I am not 100% sure what drug they gave him. But it turned him into a zombie. He was nothing like himself anymore.
His mother decided to treat him with essential oils. Now, I am not a huge fan of essential oils. I think they can be useful for smaller issues, but not big issues. I do carry peppermint essential oil with me because I have a bad stomach and it settles it down. She, however, swears by the stuff, and she made a mixture to treat her son with.
It works for him. He was able to go off the medication and is closer to the young man he used to be. So while I’m not a fan of the essential oils, I support her using them for him because they seem to work for him, and they don’t have to pump him full of drugs.
So I don’t have an issue with DeVos supporting something even if the science is weird on it. Medication is a last resort. It won’t hurt to try every other option first.