Could ADHD brain scans for children provide an easy way of diagnosing this disorder? This is the exciting news coming from the University of Michigan Health System which has just finished a study which could lead to a better diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in the future. The only problem is that we will have to wait several years before this happens.
ADHD brain differences
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After studying brains scans of ADHD children and those who were normal, researchers were able to map what is going on in the brain. They used a system which they have dubbed ‘connectomics’. That simply means that they were examining the pathways of connections that go on when a child thinks, observes and tries to focus.
The University of Michigan’s Department of Psychiatry carried out the brain scans. They scanned the brains of 275 children with ADHD and almost 500 kids without it. They used the fMRD magnetic resonance imaging to see how the pathways interact with each other. It is all about making connections and that is why the term ‘connectomics’ has been coined to describe this.
The main finding was that the ADHD children’s brain function and neural pathways were slower in maturing and that they were much more liable to distraction. Well, we knew that already but it is great that the scientists can actually see this happening in the brain scan.
If we observe a picture, a whole series of neural connections start within our brain. We may observe the color and shapes and start making connections with associations and memories of some similar picture. In ADHD kids, this takes longer to happen which explains a lot of their symptoms.
Researchers also found that the speed with which we make connections determines the efficiency of the brain. The faster, the better, because that means we can focus quickly, take action and also have a longer attention span. The kids with ADHD are not so lucky as these pathways take longer to develop and they are more prone to daydreaming.
Using brain imagery for ADHD diagnosis
Scientists now hope that in the future, they will be able to develop a neuromarker which will show up on a brain scan. That could make diagnosing ADHD so much more reliable.
Implications for ADHD and mental illnesses
Brain imagery and psychiatry work extremely well together as Dr. Daniel Amen and his colleagues found over the 22 years they have been studying brains. They have done 83,000 SPECT scans and their work has been useful in helping people with ADHD, Alzheimer’s, stroke recovery, drug addiction and so on. It is well worth watching the video below as Dr. Amen explains in a TED talk what the implications are for mental illness treatment. Treatment needs to be tailored to individual brains and not clusters of symptoms.
Dr, Amen points out that psychiatrists rarely study the organ of their patients, the brain. Brain scans are the only way they can do this but the medical profession has been reluctant to use them up to now. Dr. Amen believes that you could treat patients with a brain rehabilitation program, rather than throwing medication at them. Dementia, OCD, depression and other mental conditions can all be treated using this type of treatment. However, many psychiatrists and doctors have raised doubts about the problem of a reliable brain scan reflecting accurately a clinical diagnosis. Most doctors and psychiatrists would consider Dr. Amen’s findings preliminary.
Why aren’t ADHD brain scans used more?
The American Medical Association explains on its site what the problems are using the brain scans. It is still early days. There are problems with standardization and also the fact summaries of brain function using a scan can only reveal part of the problem. It very much depends on what task the patient was asked to perform before, during and after.
There are other problems relating to the reliability of the diagnostic uses that these scans are used for. There are no standard brain scanning procedures so there is much more work to be done.
Worried that ADHD brain scans might be a scam? At the moment they run to $3,000 for the initial scan. Time to look at ADHD alternative treatment. Click on the link for more details.
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