Many of you are familiar with Dr. Amen’s late night advertisement for his program to improve one’s life by changing one’s brain. Fortunately, we’re learning the brain is quite responsive to experiences, so the brain/life relationship is a complex and interactive one.
Attention Deficit Disorder is characterized by difficulty focusing, distractibility, disorganization, impulsivity, and, for some people, hyperactivity. In North America, approximately 3-5% of school aged children are diagnosed with ADD. In his book “Healing ADD: Breakthrough Program That Allows you to See and Heal the Six Types of ADD” (2001), Dr. Amen describes his belief there are actually 6 different types of Attention Deficit Disorder and he proposes a specific program for healing each. Dr. Amen uses biofeedback, which consists of training people to change their brainwave patterns. Based on research that suggests people with ADD symptoms have different brainwave patterns than the general population, Dr. Amen uses computerized biofeedback programs to train new brainwave patterns. One of the issues brain research has highlighted is when people with ADD try to concentrate, the “concentration” section in the brain turns off. Thus, the harder someone is trying to concentrate, the more difficult it could be. Brainwave biofeedback could teach someone to alter their brainwave patterns so concentration is easier.
There is a greater likelihood of someone with untreated ADD to abuse alcohol and drugs later in life. This is likely an attempt to alter brainwave patterns through substance use. Unfortunately, the negative side effects can be much greater than the perceived benefit. In addition to self-medication with alcohol or drugs, people with ADD may develop unpleasant strategies to stimulate areas of his or her brain. For example, becoming angry or engaging in conflict leads to the production of adrenaline. In some cases, people with ADD may seek opportunities to feel these emotions so that their brain activity increases in different areas. This is certainly not a conscious decision that anyone would choose if he or she had an alternative strategy to change his or her internal state.
Dr. Amen makes a variety of suggestions for dealing with ADD including dietary interventions and supplements. Also helpful is regularly engaging in intense aerobic exercise. He recommends avoiding prolonged exposure to video or computer games. Dr. Amen includes an entire chapter outlining the different medications for ADD, and which specific symptoms each medication targets. His work is in the area of neurofeedback (changing brainwave patterns), and he outlines the helpfulness of various sleep strategies, correcting negative thoughts, focused breathing, as well as parenting, family, and school strategies.
While sometimes derided as a made-up or mythical disorder, Dr. Amen states “ADD is a neurobiological disorder with serious psychological and social consequences. Children, teens, adults, and parents need to know: It’s not their fault. They didn’t cause it. There is hope.” (2001, p. 206)
Marie Amos, MA, RCC, is a Mental Health Therapist with Child and Youth Mental Health of MCFD, Chilliwack.