TARGET 8: ADHD diagnoses, medication on the rise

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COLUMBIA - Jeff Johnson is a fifteen-year-old who has attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, or ADHD. Jeff Johnson Sr., Jeff's dad, said ADHD impacts every day life.

"I'm sitting there thinking what can I do to help my child to overcome this diagnosis?" Johnson Sr. said. "I look at it as there's no cure, that's part of the brain. How did this happen? How can we fix this?"

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jeff's not alone. One in 10 children had received an ADHD diagnosis by 2011. Nationally, parents reported 6.4 million children received health care for ADHD.

Also according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD diagnoses in children continue to increase. From 2003 to 2011, there was a 42 percent increase in diagnosis.
There was also a 28 percent increase between 2007 and 2011 with children taking medication. The percentage of children who take ADHD medication is at 4.8 percent in 2007 compared to 2011, with 6.1 percent.

Dr. Jeff Tarrant said these numbers raise a lot of questions.

"The percentages that I'm seeing are 10-12 percent of children are meeting the criteria to be diagnosed with ADHD, which seems very, very high," Tarrant said. "That raises a lot of questions: Are we over diagnosing? Are we misdiagnosing? What's going on?"

Johnson feels doctors tend to medicate children before looking at the main issue and said sometimes physicians are quick to medicate children.

"I don't want to see any child doped up, overmedicated, because that's not resolving anything," Johnson said. "I've seen a lot of kids get kicked out of school just because they can't sit still or stay still. I had that same problem with my son, because he used to go for a half a day, now he goes for a all day. You just have to work as a team and move forward."

Tarrant specializes in a unique treatment called neurofeedback. The treatment measures brain wave activity and aims to equalize parts of the brain that see an increase in theta, beta or alpha brain waves.

"Nuerofeedback is the process of brain waves," Tarrant said. "So you're measuring brain wave activity and presenting that to the client, so they can see what their brain is doing in real time and then learning to modify that."

Tarrant measures brain wave activity by observing the patient as they play a game or watch a movie; however, the movie or game will not remain on the screen unless the brain is fully engaged, or exercising the specific part of the brain being targeted.

"The feedback can be auditory signals, it can be computer game with little PacMan, but the PacMan only moves when you're brain is doing what I'm asking it to do," Tarrant said. "Attaching a DVD movie to the feedback, so when I ask the brain to do what it's supposed to do, the screen is fully bright and the volume is all the way up. When the brain isn't doing what I'm asking it to, the screen dims, the volume goes down, so the only way to watch a movie is to get the brain to do what I'm asking him to do."

Neurofeedback treatment does not serve as an alternative to medication like Adderall or Ritalin; however, many patients use neurofeedback as a single treatment option for ADHD.

"The majority of people I see, they've tried medication, and for whatever reason it is not an effective strategy for them. They either had a bad reaction to the medication, or it wasn't helpful," Tarrant said.

Tarrant said he thinks culture and societal factors also impact a child's behavior.

"For instance we know a lack of sleep causes a increase in theta brain waves, which is what we see with ADHD. We know poor diet increases theta brain waves, not be out in nature, not exercising enough, we know that one of them, just one by themselves, makes people less attentive and more hyper and more impulsive, but in a lot of our kids it's not just one of these things, it's all of them," Tarrant said.

Johnson said it's important for parents to work with the school and to provide consistency for the child.

"Also the school...going to the school and seeing what's going on with your child and talking with their teachers and see where they're at on their grade level," Johnson Sr. said. "And I've done that, and I still do it today. And they email me and let me know how he's doing."

Overall, Missouri's numbers of ADHD diagnosis and medication treatment have declined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states in 2007, 8.6 percent of children were diagnosed compared to 8.4 percent in 2011.