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Can Video Games Be Used to Treat ADHD?

The question about whether video games can aggravate ADHD is a tricky one.  Kids with and without ADHD love them, but some experts say that gaming can make ADHD worse because of the sensory overload and because it promotes a sedentary lifestyle.  Video games also serve as a distraction that places schoolwork and socialization into the back seat. However, those in the opposite camp say that video games can provide critical thinking skills and a sense of accomplishment that ADHD kids rarely get at school.  And today, there is a new non-medical treatment that uses a video game to treat the inattention and distractibility of kids with ADHD.

This approach is called neurofeedback, a therapy that makes use of a video-game-like interface to reduce inattention and impulsivity.  The theory is that individuals with ADHD have abnormal brain wave patterns that are either under-aroused or over-stimulated in the wrong situations.  Kids with ADHD in particular have small beta waves (which appear during a calm, focused state) and large theta waves (which appear when the person is daydreaming).  During a neurofeedback session, electrodes are placed on the scalp to keep track of brain wave patterns.  The patient will then be asked to play a car racing game with different tracks. However, the car crashes or refuses to move if the child's brain waves change. The more beta waves there are, the faster the car accelerates.  In subsequent rounds, the child's opponents will be his or her previous performance to make the game more challenging and encourage the child to repeat the proper brain wave patterns.

There are a number of small studies in Europe that suggest neurofeedback has positive effects on attention span, impulsivity, and distractibility.  However, the efficacy of neurofeedback still needs to be studied using a larger sample.  Researchers also observe that older children tend to find the game too simplistic to hold their attention.  Another downside to neurofeedback is that it is very expensive.  There is a gaming system and visor with electrodes for the PlayStation and Xbox, but the price ranges from $500 to $1,000. 

If you have the money to spare for neurofeedback, then it might be worth a shot.  Otherwise, you might want a treatment that is less expensive.  It's also best if you limit rather than prohibit children from playing video games.  If played in moderation, video games can actually help your child develop keen analytic skills and creative problem-solving techniques.  Studies show that an hour of playing video games a day is just right; any more contributes to inattention and distractibility.

Video game playing should also be complemented by regular exercise.  Try encouraging your kids to play outdoors or to take up a sport before allowing them to touch their gaming consoles.