What Hope Does Research Offer?
Although no immediate cure is in sight, a new understanding of ADHD
may be just over the horizon. Using a variety of research tools
and methods, scientists are beginning to uncover new information
on the role of the brain in ADHD and effective treatments for
the disorder Such research will ultimately result in improving
the personal fulfillment and productivity of people with ADHD.
For example, the use of new techniques like brain imaging to
observe how the brain actually works is already providing new
insights into the causes of ADHD. Other research is seeking to
identify conditions of pregnancy and early childhood that may
cause or contribute to these differences in the brain. As the
body of knowledge grows, scientists may someday learn how to prevent
these differences or at least how to treat them.
NIMH and the U.S. Department of Education are cosponsoring a
large national study--tthe first of its kind--tto see which combinations
of ADHD treatment work best for different types of children. During
this 5-year study, scientists at research clinics across the country
will work together in gathering data to answer such questions
as: Is combining stimulant medication with behavior modification
more effective than either alone? Do boys and girls respond differently
to treatment? How do family stresses, income, and environment
affect the severity of ADHD and long-term outcomes? How does needing
medicine affect children's sense of competence, self-control,
and self-esteem? As a result of such research, doctors and mental
health specialists may someday know who benefits most from different
types of treatment and be able to intervene more effectively.
NIMH grantees are also trying to determine if there are different
varieties of attention deficit. With further study, researchers
may find that ADHD actually covers a number of different disorders,
each with its own cluster of symptoms and treatment requirements.
For example, scientists are exploring whether there are any critical
differences between children with ADHD who also have anxiety,
depression, or conduct disorders and those who do not. Other researchers
are studying slight physical differences that might distinguish
one type of ADHD from another. If clusters of differences can
be found, scientists can begin to distinguish the treatment each
Other NIMH-sponsored research is examining the long-term outcome
of ADHD. How do children with ADHD turn out, compared to brothers
and sisters without the disorder? As adults, how do they handle
their own children? Still other studies seek to better understand
ADHD in adults. Such studies give insights into what types of
treatment or services make a difference in helping an ADHD child
grow into a caring parent and a well-functioning adult.
Animal studies are also adding to our knowledge of ADHD in humans.
Animal subjects make it possible to study some of the possible
causes of ADHD in ways that can't be studied in people. In addition,
animal research allows the safety and effectiveness of experimental
new drugs to be tested long before they can be given to humans.
One NIH-sponsored team of scientists is studying dogs to learn
how new stimulant drugs that are similar to Ritalin act on the
Piece by piece, through studies of humans and animals, scientists
are beginning to understand the biological nature of attention
disorders. New research is allowing us to better understand the
inner workings of the brain as we continue to develop new medications
and assess new forms of treatment.
As we learn more about what actually happens inside the brain,
we approach a future where we can prevent certain brain and mental
disorders, make valid diagnoses, and treat each effectively. This
is the hope, mission, and vision of the National Institute of
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