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Researchers Investigate Nerve Stimulation as ADHD Treatment

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Posted: 3/16/2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new study at The Ohio State University Medical Center is exploring whether a combination of movement, sounds and visual stimuli can reduce some symptoms associated with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children.
Doctor Eugene Arnold
L. Eugene Arnold, M.D.
Doctor David Clark
David L. Clark, Ph.D.

The research zeroes in on the auditory nerve, also referred to as the eighth cranial nerve, and whether stimulating the nerve can help increase the attention span, calm overactivity and control impulsivity in children with the disorder. Ohio State is the only medical center in the country conducting this research using specially designed equipment to provide the treatment.

The experimental treatment will be tested on 50 children age 7 to 12, an age during which children’s sensory systems are still developing and are more susceptible to adjustments, said Dr. David Clark, associate professor of anatomy in OSU’s College of Medicine and Public Health and principal investigator of the study.

Clark and his colleagues theorize that permanent change to neurochemical transmitters in the brain may result from the treatment by either speeding up the activity of neurons that send messages in the brain or turning up the sensitivity of receptors receiving those messages.

“What we believe we’re doing is resetting the cerebellum. Stimulating the eighth nerve is like stimulating any sensory system,” Clark said. “If you can reset the central nervous system mechanisms at this age of development, there’s a chance to consolidate the effect, and the central nervous system may stay fixed.

“Tests show the nerve itself is normal in children with ADHD, so we know sensory signals are getting in, but it appears they are not handled correctly once they reach the brain.”

The auditory nerve is associated with hearing and motion sensation. For the study, researchers at OSU Medical Center have equipped a lab with an apparatus that provides specially engineered white noise and motion. Children sit with goggles and earphones in a chair-like machine that is programmed to make precise gentle movements along with soothing sounds and a variety of visual stimuli. Three 30-minute treatment sessions are administered each week over the 12-week study. Outcome measures include neuropsychological test results and teacher/parent assessments of participating children’s ability to pay attention.

ADHD affects an estimated 3 percent to 8 percent of the school-age population in the United States and is characterized by such symptoms as difficulty in organizing tasks, failing to pay close attention in tasks or activities, inability to follow instructions, talking excessively, fidgeting, impatience and frequently interrupting others.

This research is part of a growing body of work conducted by OSU Medical Center scientists who are considering alternatives to the most commonly used medications for ADHD, methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine).

“Positive effects on behavior and academic performance are established with these medications, but such drugs can either fail to normalize function or can cause troublesome side effects,” Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, a child psychiatrist at OSU Medical Center and a consultant on the auditory nerve study. “Further, some parents simply do not want their children to take stimulants or other medication for such problems.”

The auditory nerve study is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health.

For further details on new, ongoing and upcoming OSU Medical Center studies concerning Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, visit the Web at http://psychmed.osu.edu or call Ohio State’s Nisonger Center at 614-688-8214. For information specifically about the auditory nerve study, call 614-783-3968.

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Emily Caldwell
Medical Center Communications