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ADHD and Memory

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What is ADHD?

ADHD and Memory

ADHD Defined – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neurobiological condition marked by a specific group of symptoms which include inattention, hyperactivity and low impulse control. It is estimated that ADHD affects 3-7% of children over the age of 7. There is currently no cure for the disorder, but it can be managed with a multi-discipline treatment plan.


Types of ADHD – Psychiatrist and Specialist Dr. Daniel Amen has identified six different types of ADHD, each subgroup containing its own distinct symptoms. However, three types of ADHD are commonly recognized, with the distinction based on which symptoms are most prevalent.

  • Predominately Inattentive – This type of ADHD is often referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  It is characterized by a much shorter attention span as compared to the general population.
  • Predominately Hyperactive-Impulsive – Focus is less impaired while impulsivity and activity are excessive.  Often these individuals are described as "having ants in their pants", being unable to to sit still for a second, or "just like the energizer bunny- they keep going and going and going..."
  • ADHD Combined – With this type, Inattention, Hyperactivity and Impulsivity are equally strong.


Childhood vs Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - Most cases of ADHD are diagnosed in childhood, though some go undiagnosed until adulthood. New studies suggest that up to 60% of those diagnosed in childhood continue to suffer symptoms as adults. The symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in adults are virtually identical to those in children. However, by adulthood many people with ADHD, have found tools and modified their behavior as to minimize the effects of (or work around) the disorder.


Potential causes – The root causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are still unknown. The disorder appears to have an inherited genetic component. Much of the research of causes indicates links to brain structure (smaller temporal and frontal lobes), brain chemistry (imbalances in neurotransmitter levels), diet as well as possible exposure to toxic substances.


ADHD and Memory - How does ADHD affect memory?

Working Memory - ADHD primarily affects working memory. Working Memory is a specific kind of short-term memory where information is stored briefly and is made available for computation or manipulation. Researchers have studied ADHD and working memory extensively and found that a weak or dysfunctional working memory is one of the primary causes of many of the executive function problems many people with ADHD experience. Executive Function is “the manager of the mind”. It includes the ability to organize, plan, problem solve, self-regulate emotions and resist distractions. Central to healthy executive function is a strong working memory.



Professor Susan Gathercole , a Cognitive Psychologist and researcher from the University of York does a great job of explaining working memory.  


Selective Attention - A second way ADHD can affect memory is through a weakness in selective attention. Selective Attention is the ability to focus on one piece of stimuli (task, thought or sound) exclusively.

Researchers use the term "The Cocktail Party Phenomenon" to illustrate how selective attention should work. When involved in a conversation in a room full of conversations, most people will be able to focus on the conversation in which they are engaged (how it should work). Those with ADHD; however, find tuning out the other conversations or sounds in the room much more difficult. In fact, some people with ADHD would say they can hear not only their conversation but every conversation, all the sounds of forks on plates, ice in glasses, etc. The key point is the system most people use to filter important and unimportant stimuli (sights, sounds and thoughts) does not work...or does not work properly.  While the lack of selective attention does not directly affect memory, being overwhelmed by unimportant stimuli will most certainly influence whether something important is remembered or not.


Manage ADHD and Improve Memory

There are many memory options available to help people manage memory problems and other the symptoms of ADHD. They include both prescription medication and natural non-drug follows:

ADHD MedicationADHD medication - Medications commonly prescribed to treat ADHD symptoms are either stimulant or non-stimulant based. Stimulant-based medications make up the bulk of the medications prescribed for ADHD and are thought to restore the natural balance of neurotransmitters within the brain, they include:

  • Ritalin is a stimulant which has long been prescribed as a treatment for ADD and hyperactive disorders. As other medications have come on the market, Ritalin's popularity has waned, however, the practice of prescribing Ritalin for depression is on the rise.
  • Concerta contains the same stimulant as Ritalin (Methylphenidate) but is formulated as a time-release capsule which is effective for 12 hours rather than the 4-6 hour effectiveness of Ritalin.
  • Adderall contains a combination of four different stimulants. It is considered to be a more powerful drug than Ritalin, with lower reported instances of anxiety and agitation but is more likely to cause insomnia.
  • Vyvanse is one of the newest drugs used for ADHD treatment. It is a psychostimulant and may be tolerated with lesser side-effects than mixed-stimulant medications.


Non-Stimulant ADHD Medications are gaining in popularity as the long-term effects and potential for abuse of stimulants become more widely know and understood, and they include:

  • Strattera is a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (NRI). Initially intended as an antidepressant, the drug is now primarily prescribed as a treatment for ADHD. Strattera has less potential for abuse than stimulant medications and a single dose provides 24-hour coverage.
  • Intuniv is often taken alongside one of the above stimulants, but can be used alone to control mild ADHD symptoms. It helps improve attention by regulating prefrontal cortex activity.


Managing ADHD Without Medication - Many people have concerns about the powerful ADHD medications frequently prescribed for treatment of ADHD. This concern has led to a search for natural and homeopathic remedies as alternative ways to improve memory and treat other ADHD symptoms. They include:

  • ADHD and Working MemoryWorking Memory Training – There are a variety of visuo-spatial and verbal cognitive improvement exercises available (both on the Internet and through specific programs) intended to strengthen the working memory. These exercises are designed to develop sustained attention and focus, while using the short-term working memory to complete tasks and computations.
  • Exercise – One of the keys to a healthy brain is regular physical activity. Children and adults with ADHD will reap secondary benefits from frequent exercise.
  • Sleep – Studies have shown that restful sleep allows the brain to recharge, repair and transform short-term memories into long-term memory. Both children and adults who struggle with ADHD and short term memory problems should be sure to get plenty of restful (REM) sleep.
  • ADHD Diet – The non-profit Feingold Association is the primary proponent of controlling ADHD through diet. Dr. Feingold and many others believe that synthetic food additives are responsible for a number of health and behavioral problems. The link between ADHD and diet however remains a controversial one as patient responses to this treatment remain mixed. Those interested in treating ADHD without medication may want to try Dr. Feingold's Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Diet which includes restrictions on a variety of food additives including artificial coloring, flavorings and sweeteners as well as certain preservatives.

Whether follow the Feingold Diet or not consuming certain foods known to improve cognitive function can also boost your brainpower and memory. Foods such as Blueberries, Salmon, Eggs, Mixed Nuts and Whole Grains have been shown to improve concentration, memory and clarity.

  • Natural medication for ADHD - These include herbal supplements like Gingko Biloba, Brahmi, Siberian Ginseng, Gotu Kola and Green Oats, which are recommended by Homeopathic Specialists as treatment for ADHD without medication. Practitioners of Chinese Medicine also recommend a number of herbal medications for adhd symptoms, including Tiaoshen Liquor and Calm Dragon Formula. It is always important to discuss any proposed new treatment with your primary caregiver before beginning a treatment regimen.
  • Meditation – A recent Duke University study has linked the practice of Mindfulness Meditation to a decrease in ADHD in symptoms for teenagers and adults. This particular kind of meditation quiets the mind and narrows focus and will improve memory.

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