Study looks into whether less medication can help kids with ADHD learn

CALGARY- Researchers at the University of Calgary are looking into whether children with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can perform better academically with less medication.

“We’re very interested in trying to see how best we can ensure medication is improving their learning so their long term gains in academic achievement is sustained overtime,” says Dr. James B. Hale, a neuropsychologist with the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is often genetic.  It impacts 4 % of Canadians children and is usually diagnosed before the age of seven.  For children with ADHD, part of the brain responsible for focus, behavior and emotional control is underactive.  Medication is used to help stimulate the production of dopamine.

“There is long term positive effects on children treated with medicine which actually shows their brain rewires,” says Hale. “But while more medication is usually better for behavior, less medication may be better for thinking.”

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Hale and his team of researchers plan to examine how the medication,  methylphenidate (commonly known by the brand name Ritalin), impacts behavior, problem solving, emotional control and learning.

Study participants with ADHD  will be divided into two groups; one will continue taking medication as directed by their doctor, while the other group will alternate between a week on medication and a week on a placebo.

“Then we compare the thinking and behaviour on and off medication to see the impact it has, not only on the child’s behaviour, but also their thinking and learning as
well,” says Hale.

The research team will use both clinical data and neuroimaging to determine the effects of the medication on children with ADHD.

The study will involve 120 children from the Calgary area, including 100 diagnosed with ADHD and another 20 who do not have ADHD. 

Children in the study with ADHD will be monitored for six months.

Parents interested in enrolling their children in
the study should phone Sara Holland at 403-220-5656 (ext. 2) or e-mail  More information can also be found on the lab

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