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ADHD – what adds up? It’s not just the medication.

There is growing evidence that the first approach in addressing ADHD should be either non-drug therapy, especially in younger children, or a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Treatments that may be beneficial include getting more sleep, staying hydrated, exercising to help focus, playing soothing music, and even teaching the child to meditate.  May seem obvious?

In the case of sleep, as many as 80% of teens do not get enough sleep.  Sleep-deprived children often lack focus and may have symptoms of hyperactivity, which can be attributed mistakenly to ADHD.

 Recognizing that the brain is 73% water, it makes sense that dehydration may have effects on a child’s ability to control some of their ADHD symptoms. In general, dehydration can affect ability to concentrate, memory, and is associated with mood swings and fatigue. Just as is the case with the overlap between ADHD symptoms and those caused by poor sleep hygiene, symptoms of ADHD also overlap with those seen with dehydration.  We are talking water here – not sugary and additive-laden drinks.

Some recent small studies have suggested that children with ADHD who practice meditation may be able to concentrate better. They also seem to have less depression and anxiety. Meditation is something to consider for kids and families that want to try alternative strategies.

Last but not least, exercise is well established as important for overall physical fitness, growth, mood, and possible prevention of overweight, but it turns out that it may be particularly helpful in children with ADHD. Running and cycling have beneficial effects on executive functioning, response inhibition, cognitive control, and behaviour. Keeping a child with ADHD active is a strategy for all ages.

Children are being diagnosed with ADHD at younger and younger ages. Instilling good behaviour and lifestyle habits as they grow will help them control their ADHD better as they move into adolescence and adulthood. Medication should not be ruled out and is clearly an important therapy for many kids, but it may not be the best first therapy, nor should it be the only therapy for the majority of children.

Cite this article: Treating ADHD in Children: It’s Not All About Medication. Medscape. Dec 07, 2016. Hansa Bhargava, MD

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