Brain training for ADHD is growing in popularity and availability. Programs can be found for smartphones, computers, tablets, and beyond. Various brain training systems claim to improve common executive functioning challenges among people with ADHD, such as attention, impulsivity, and working memory. Many of the programs have layouts that look and feel like video games but are designed to exercise these specific brain functions.
Programs generally fall under neurofeedback training — which aims to change physiological activity by monitoring brain waves — and cognitive training, which focuses on improving specific brain skills like problem-solving and reading comprehension mainly through games and other exercises.
Whether brain training definitively works to improve ADHD symptoms, however, is still being researched. Some studies have demonstrated improved brain functioning in users. Critics, however, question how much users are actually benefitting. “Existing research does suggest that neurofeedback can result in improved attention, diminished hyperactivity, and enhanced executive functions, including working memory, for some patients,” said David Rabiner, Ph.D., and Ed Hamlin, Ph.D., in a 2017 ADDitude webinar. “However, some of the most important researchers in the ADHD field would argue that the efficacy of neurofeedback for ADHD has not been conclusively established. The bottom line is that research support for both stimulant medication therapy and behavior therapy is stronger than it is for neurofeedback at the moment.”
One brain training program, Play Attention, bills itself as a learning system that uses both neurofeedback and cognitive training to help users boost focus, refine memory skills, ignore distractions, and finish tasks. A series1 of2 randomized, controlled studies by Tufts University School of Medicine found that its users showed greater improvements in attention, hyperactivity, and executive functioning than students who used other programs.
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1Steiner, Naomi J., et al. “Computer-Based Attention Training in the Schools for Children With Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Preliminary Trial.” Clinical Pediatrics, vol. 50, no. 7, 10 May 2011, pp. 615–622., doi:10.1177/0009922810397887.
2 Steiner, Naomi J., et al. “Neurofeedback and Cognitive Attention Training for Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Schools.” Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, vol. 35, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 18–27., doi:10.1097/dbp.0000000000000009.