Beware of expensive computer programs for ADHD

December 10, 2013

Computer-based cognitive training programs that claim to improve things such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and academic and social success in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) probably don’t live up to those promises.

 

Computer-based cognitive training programs that claim to improve things such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and academic and social success in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) probably don’t live up to those promises.

A new study finds that many of the programs that focus on executive function and attention training for ADHD demonstrate limited efficacy, that training short-term memory works only moderately, and that such training does not improve academic, behavioral, or cognitive functioning in kids with this neurobehavioral disorder.

Over a 2-year period, researchers from the University of Central Florida and the University of Virginia conducted a meta-analysis of 25 studies looking at computer-based cognitive training programs for children with ADHD. They reviewed blinded studies sponsored by companies producing the programs, as well as independently conducted ones.

They found that many of the programs claiming to improve working memory (information stored for the completion of tasks such as comprehension, mental math, and multitasking) actually trained short-term memory (storing information for a brief interval) instead. Working memory represents one of the most important deficits in children with ADHD.

The researchers concluded that many of the claims regarding improved academic, behavioral, and cognitive performance are unsubstantiated and that the programs do not produce any significant or meaningful long-term change, but they left open the door that such programs could become useful tools that might help some children with the disorder.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 11% of children aged 4 to 17 years were diagnosed with ADHD in 2011, up from 7.8% in 2003 and 9.5% in 2007. 

 

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