Virtual Brain Training

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Four people at a science fair.

Second Place Addiction Science Award Winter Kevin Knight with NIDA judges Dr. Ruben Baler, Dr. Cindy Miner and Dr. Pam Ling.

Imagine you are a teen with ADHD. It’s hard for you to focus in class, your mind wanders everywhere, and even though you want to do well in class you’d much rather be outside shooting hoops. Although you take notes, it’s hard for you to remember the teacher’s instructions. So after a medical evaluation, your doctor prescribes stimulants to help you focus.

That’s what happened to NIDA’s second place Addiction Science Award winner, Kevin Knight, a 17-year-old junior at Collegiate High School in Niceville, Florida. Based on his own experience, Kevin wanted to know if there were other ways besides medication to train his brain to focus.

So he decided to take a scientific look at computer programs designed to improve focus and memory with his project, "Improving ADHD Treatment: A Comparison of Stimulant Medication Treatment for Children with ADHD."

Computerized Cognitive Training of Attention and Working Memory, and the Combination of the Two," took a lot of work (even more than coming up with that title!) He worked with doctors to find teenage volunteers with ADHD to see if they could improve their focus and memory by playing computer “brain games.”

Kevin was surprised by what he learned. The best outcomes came with kids who took their medication AND used the computer programs. They had better focus and better memory. Kevin even tested himself, and improved his own ability to focus. This suggests that computer games used with medications could be part of an effective approach for treating ADHD.

Why was this given an “Addiction Science” award? Because the medications prescribed for ADHD, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are stimulants, and stimulants can be abused. Some kids even give or sell the pills to their friends, which can be dangerous. For more information on stimulants taken for ADHD, check out https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants.

NIDA’s Addiction Science award is given at the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which was in San Jose this year. For more information on NIDA’s 3 winners, see NIDA’s news release at http://www.nida.nih.gov/newsroom/10/NR5-14.html

What is part of your personal experience that might be the basis of a cool science fair project?

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