Study: Meditation Against ADHD

A fascinating new study suggests the benefits of mindfulness meditation for adolescents and adults with attention deficits.
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Travel back, in your mind's eye, to a time when you felt a healthy exhaustion after hiking, biking, playing sports.., and let you re-live that moment as vividly as you can.

Then, remember, re-experience, a loving exchange that really touched you. Pause. See your partner. See the moment. Smell it. Hear what happened around you.

Next, visualize the most caring gesture you have ever received, as full of details as possible. Who gave you that gift of caring. How you felt.

Now, travel to the most magnificent place you have seen. Enjoy the views. Pause. Listen. Smile. Appreciate.

Congratulations. You have trained your brain. As Newsweek's Sharon Begley explained recently:

But now neuroscientists have documented how "mere" thoughts can also sculpt the brain. Just thinking about playing a piano piece, over and over, can expand the region of motor cortex that controls those fingers; just thinking about depressive thoughts in new ways can dial down activity in one part of the brain that underlies depression and increase it in another, leading to clinical improvement.

We have talked about the value of meditation before. Only a few days ago, in predicting brain health trends for the next 5 years in our SharpBrains blog, I wrote that:

Noncomputer-based programs will also prove to be effective tools. Research increasingly is affirming the value of such methods as meditation to train attention and regulate emotions, using cognitive therapy to build self-motivation and other abilities, and keeping a gratitude journal to affirm positives in one's life and improve self-reported happiness.

A fascinating new study (Mindfulness meditation training in adults and adolescents with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11, 737-746) suggests the benefits of mindfulness for adolescents and adults with attention deficits.

Let's see what Dr. David Rabiner, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, has to say about the topic:

Mindfulness meditation is described as involving 3 basic steps: 1) bringing attention to an "attentional anchor" such as breathing; 2) noting that distraction occurs and letting go of the distraction; and, 3) refocusing back to the "attentional anchor".

This sequence is repeated many times during the course of each meditative session. As the individual becomes better able to maintain focus on the attentional anchor, the notion of "paying attention to attention" is introduced and individuals are encouraged to bring their attention to the present moment frequently during the course of the day.

By directing one's attention to the process of paying attention, to noticing notice when one becomes distracted, and to refocusing attention when distraction occurs, mindfulness meditation training can be thought of as an "attention training" program. As such, examining the impact of such training on individuals with ADHD becomes a very interesting question to pursue.

The Results of the study?

Seventy-eight percent of participants (25 of 33) completed the study. On average, participants attended 7 of the 8 weekly training sessions. Adults reported an average of 90 minutes and 4.6 sessions per week of at-home meditation practice; adolescents averaged 43 minutes and 4 sessions of weekly at-home practice. Both adolescents and adults who completed the program reported high levels of satisfaction with it - average scores above 9 on a 1 to 10 satisfaction scale.

Seventy-eight percent of participants reported a reduction in total ADHD symptoms, with 30% reporting at least a 30% symptom reduction (a 30% reduction in symptoms is often used to identify clinically significant improvement in ADHD medication trials). Because the majority of participants were receiving medication treatment, for many these declines represent improvement above and beyond what benefits were already being provided by medication.

On neurocognitive test performance, significant improvements were found on the measure of attentional conflict and on several other neuropsychological tests (i.e., Stroop color-word test and Trails A and B) but not for measures of working memory.

For adults, significant reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms were reported. Comparable reductions in these symptoms were not evident in adolescents

In short: in order to fight Attention Deficits...may it not make sense to develop the "mental muscles" to Pay Attention?

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