Author Topic: Possible ADHD improvements  (Read 6124 times)

sinkingthinking

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Possible ADHD improvements
« on: January 25, 2010, 02:02:12 PM »
I just have to share this first of all. I hope you'll find it interesting. If anyone with more knowledge about the science behind any of this has anything to add, or anyone wants to comment in any way, please feel free. I think the implications are massive so I'd like to understand this more and know how to make the most of it.

I have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Primarily Inattentive Type, and ordinarily have quite horrendous trouble reading things without drifting off or darting between lines, keeping up with people's speech etc., even when very interested in the content. Psychometric testing revealed specific cognitive deficits, such as an impaired working memory, which are known to contribute to attention deficits. My everyday experience of this is everything slipping out of access of my memory seconds after happening, be it my own thoughts or the first part of a long sentence. I also take far longer to notice that I've drifted off mentally than normal adults do. I daydream so much not because of boredom but because interesting facts lead to interesting thoughts which lead to more thoughts and I'm so caught up in them I forget where I am and what's happening for many minutes at a time.

Well, for whatever reason, these things haven't been happening for several days, despite the fact that I've been off my medication (not by choice) for about a week. When I watch TV, I'm having to pause and rewind at bits that I've tuned out from only a couple of times an hour. I'm reading articles from beginning to end with little skipping around the page, I'm successfully controlling urges to skip between one article and another every few lines, and only taking one break half way through. I don't remember ever having this level of power of concentration before.

As I said, I have no real way of knowing what role the meditation has played, it just seems unlikely to be coincidental. I know that the drugs do increase the likelihood that the brain will fix itself in some ways, as shown by long-term brain scanning studies, and that some people report that after taking the medication for a few years even as adults they lose their symptoms, however this has occurred quite suddenly. Another possible contributing factor is that I've been taking Calcium EDTA capsules to remove mercury from my body. EDTA is what hospitals use for mercury removal also, although they use the corrosive sodium version and pain killers, intravenously. I've been taking that for around five months now and although changes might be slow, again, it seems unlikely that the change would be so sudden and would happen to coincide with recent meditation practice.

I talk about this because it's the change most significant to me and the one I'd most want to see, if it were real. ADHD and the resulting anxiety problems are by far the most significant problems in my life at the moment, in fact I don't think I have a problem that isn't directly related. I have even doubted that I'll ever be able to hold down any kind of job at all and be independent because of how they affect me, and I'm currently seeking employment with rather little in my favour, especially given my general intelligence. If meditation can change this, it will mean more than you could probably imagine. The other reason I mention it right away is how it fits into the context of neurological studies regarding meditation. According to research, long-term meditators have thicker prefrontal cortexes than matched controls. This area of the brain seems to be the area most obviously affected by meditation of those studied so far. This region also happens to be an area that has been associated with ADHD for as long as brain scanning techniques have been applied to it. Abnormalities in the size, neurotransmitter levels and blood flow and activation patterns of the prefrontal cortex have all been repeatedly demonstrated in groups diagnosed with ADHD. You can learn more about this using Google Scholar.

Any comments, questions or additional information welcome. :)

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
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Re: Possible ADHD improvements
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2010, 11:52:24 PM »
slinkingthinking,

Yes meditation, especially Shamatha, will help relieve ADHD symptoms. In fact it can cure you completely.

ADHD, like most psychiatric diagnoses, has no scientific basis in fact as a "disease" - i.e. there is no physically identifiable cause - it is a set of symptoms.

This is why Psychiatry is not medicine - but playing experiments with chemicals and real lives. ADHD is principally a social phenomena, learned behaviour in your environment as a young child. The drugs given to relieve it are stimulants, basically Amphetamines of one kind or another.

You are finding that meditation gives you the calm and the insight to concentrate. Don't give up your practice.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew

~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

sinkingthinking

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Re: Possible ADHD improvements
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2010, 02:02:04 PM »
Hi Matthew,

Well, for the sake of full intellectual disclosure (and in case anyone reading might one day use these facts to reduce their baby's chance of ADHD), I'll have to respectfully disagree with your assessment of ADHD, as someone who has looked thoroughly and extensively at research comparing the physiology and medical history of those with and without it. Studies looking for correlations between child-rearing styles and the presence of ADHD in children have consistently failed to find any relationship, whereas studies looking for biological correlations almost seem to find a new one every week, for example maternal exposure to either active or passive cigarette smoke while in the womb, a smaller size or mild oxgygen deprivation at birth, less breast milk as babies, higher levels of mercury in the blood stream, as per the link above, living in houses with fanless gas stoves during early childhood, etc. etc. Anything that harms the brain is likely to contribute to ADHD traits (as anyone who's suffered a bad concussion will know directly, for a while) because the parts of the brain involved in ADHD are those most sensitive to damage, and in infanthood while those parts are still developing, it's not damage that tends to be fully recovered from. Certain genes are also implicated.

The reason it's rarely (I say rarely because in a few cases, severe head injury, or a certain rare form of thyroid disease that causes permanent brain damage is clearly the culprit) possible to identify what caused the condition in individual people is actually because there's such a huge array of biological factors like these that increase the likelihood of having it and the various factors also interact with each other to increase likelihood even further in complex relationships not fully understood; not because there are none known. So if someone has a family history of it, that doesn't mean it must have been entirely due to their genes, as without the additional push of myriad environmental harms and combinations of harms to the brain that affect most children these days to varying degrees their genes may not have been sufficient to cause significant symptoms; there's no way of knowing for sure in whom it could have been prevented and in whom it couldn't. Now, if psychological conditioning alone caused ADHD, then in all of these respects ADHD subjects would have no average difference to those of their control subjects. The two populations would have the same mean level of lead and mercury in their bodies, they'd have the same rate of post-natal complications etc.

However, for the purposes of this thread, it doesn't matter much if we disagree about the causes. As far as I'm concerned, whatever caused my brain to be as it currently is, there does seem to be good reason to suspect that meditation might help rewire and rebalance it, so don't worry, I have no intention of stopping meditation, however hard it may become, without Herculean effort. I hope to continue for the rest of my life regardless of how this particular issue progresses. What I imagine you'll be pleased to hear is that it seems that psychiatrists and psychologists who also treat ADHD symptoms with medications and cognitive behavioural therapies seem agreed with you that mindfulness could become a mainstream approach to ADHD treatment, or at least shows enough promise to warrant further study. With these people onside, hopefully the issue will be moved forward rapidly in the coming years, as Prof. Jon Kabat-Zinn helped it move forward regarding stress and pain management.

This issue seems to be rather new to researchers and clinicians so I've not managed to find much more information since my last post, but here are the things I have found:

(They don't use the words samatha or vipassana but it seems that quite conventional use of these is what they mean by mindfulness in the studies.)

This paper explains why there is ample theoretical reason to test the effects of mindfulness on ADHD given what is known about the brains and cognitive and affective profiles of ADHD patients and the effects of meditation on the brain, cognition and affect.
Meditation-Based Training

This lady is a psychiatrist who was involved in the study below and runs a programme of mindfulness training for ADHD.
Dr. Lidia Zylowska's website

This one, like most preliminary studies, has no control group, so really just serves as a suggestion that it would be worth looking at further with rigorous, more conclusive studies (which in this case would probably involve using both groups given non-meditative relaxation methods and groups given no method as controls).
Mindfulness Meditation Training in Adults and Adolescents With ADHD

A more indepth look at the findings of the above study by a clinical psychologist.
Mindfulness meditation for adults and teens with ADHD

"The current findings support that a large portion of variability in trait mindfulness can be explained by ADHD status and personality traits of self-directedness and self-transcendence. It further suggests that interventions that increase mindfulness might improve symptoms of ADHD and increase self-directedness and/or self-transcendence."
Mindfulness and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Small study of attention with non-ADHD group.
The Impact of Intensive Mindfulness Training on Attentional Control, Cognitive Style, and Affect
« Last Edit: January 27, 2010, 03:34:44 PM by sinkingthinking »

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
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  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: Possible ADHD improvements
« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2010, 09:00:08 AM »
sinkingthinking,

We'll not debate deeply the aetiology of ADHD because that doesn't help your situation. However I have a strong sense this phenomena is mainly environmental and not genetic.

What I will say is that most meditaion based therapies suffer the same problem most western Buddhist suffer - a lack of Shamatha practice. They have indeed inherited this lack from western Buddhism as it is emerging. When they use mindfulness they are principally referring to Vipassana or insight. For this reason, even though more effective than regular therapies, recidivism rates are still generally high ~50%.

I have proposed to the psychology department at the University where I volunteer on the Chaplaincy team that we do a study comparing straight CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) with a mindfulness based CBT and a mindfulness based CBT proceeded by some weeks of Shamatha practice to first stabilise the mind. I'll let you know what happens.

Warmly,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

sinkingthinking

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Re: Possible ADHD improvements
« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2010, 05:19:59 PM »
Cool, I'll be interested in hearing how that goes. It does seem to me that shamatha should help mindfulness. I can't settle into vipassana effectively without shamatha first, personally. However I think both should theoretically be very helpful in ADHD, and here's why, from that first paper:

The two types of meditation may be linked to different systems of attention. Concentrative meditation has been linked to the orienting and conflict monitoring system, proposed by Posner and Petersen as the dorsal attention system, which is described as a voluntary attention system activated by presentation of cues indicating perceptual and response features of stimuli to which participants should direct their attention. In contrast, mindfulness meditation can be linked with the alerting system, or the ventral attention system, which is described as an alerting system that is activated during abrupt changes in sensory stimuli and detection of salient targets, especially when they are unexpected, are outside of the focus of attention, and have low probability of occurrence.

That 'alerting system' is also problematic in ADHD:

Some of the sustained attention problems among ADHD individuals may also be linked with deficits in alerting mechanisms, which are critical for normal cognitive functioning. Earlier work using spatial-orienting tasks suggested that ADHD individuals show difficulty in maintaining the alert state (sustained attention) in the absence of a warning signal. More recent studies using the Attentional Network Task (ANT) have replicated problems with alerting in ADHD, again mostly due to the inability of the individual to maintain the alert state when no warning signal was used. Other studies using tasks similar to ANT have also shown some evidence of abnormalities in alerting and/or executive control in ADHD in terms of slowed response times to abrupt visual cues, especially when faced with conflicting spatial cues.

Anecdotally, I very much relate to what's described in that last paragraph. There's also evidence that people with ADHD (and the frequently comorbid borderline personality disorder - 60% of borderlines have a history of usually undiagnosed ADHD) have below average self-monitoring ability and subsequently inaccurate self-reporting (also suggested by that study of mindfulness levels found in ADHD adults linked to above). Teaching self-monitoring strategies improves attentiveness to task and productivity, according to a small study. Mindfulness is basically advanced self-monitoring, so it should be helpful too. This is what I've found. I'm getting better at noticing when my attention is moving or becoming split in the first place and noticing what triggered it (vipassana-related), and at peacefully acknowledging so, noting the task-irrelevance of the distraction, and returning focus with less fight-back from the distraction and discomfort (shamatha-related). The more quickly this all happens, the less I miss of what's going on around me in the process.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2010, 05:29:55 PM by sinkingthinking »

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Staff
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: Possible ADHD improvements
« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2010, 10:09:47 PM »
sinkingthinking,

I am pleased to hear you are noticing change through your practice. Once I had the priveledge of lunching with Tulku Ringu Rinpoche, head of the Lam Rim or "No walls" movement within Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism is split into four schools and Tulku Ringu is a recognised master in all four traditions - hence "No walls".

During lunch I asked him "Rinpoche, if you had to express in one sentence the most important teaching of Buddhism, what would it be?".

"Oh, that's easy.", he replied, "You can change yourself".

And indeed you can as you are discovering. The more you keep up the practice the greater your level of calm mindedness and the greater your level of awareness will become.

Never underestimate the power of Shamatha. I noticed in another thread I think that you were using bodyscanning for Shamatha. I would recommend against this and encourage you to just sit and be and breathe and relax the whole body. No special area of attention except to be aware of your whole body, breathing in and relaxing, breathing out and relaxing. This is real Shamatha practice, the core of the Buddha's teaching and the basis from which insight, and thus change, can emerge.

Warmly, in the Dhamma,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

atomjack

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Re: Possible ADHD improvements
« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2010, 08:42:47 PM »
sinkingthinking,

Thank you for posting such interesting information on ADHD, something I've been diagnosed with as well. As far as medications go, psycho stimulants helped me for the disorder but because of the cost of the medication and not wanting to rely on a drug for the rest of my life, I stopped taking them and turned to meditation. I've only been meditating for a little over a year and have noticed a significant improvement in my ADHD as well with my anxiety issues. While I'm not cured (I had to catch myself drifting while reading your posts!), the improvement is inspiring and hopeful.

Best of luck.

Renze

  • Member
    • Ungrounded
    • No hope
Re: Possible ADHD improvements
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2010, 11:06:41 AM »
I've been diagnosed with ADD as well. I think it's now called 'Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Primarily Inattentive Type' as sinkingthinking described it. After I was diagnosed the psychiatrist suggested I tried medication, so I started with methylphenidate. I remember taking the first pill, it gave me the same calm and bliss as when you enter the first Jhana. Although it did help me concentrate better, the other symptoms of ADHD, anxiety and mood swings, got worse over time. At the point where I felt a massive depression, I decided to stop the medicine and try Vipassana meditation.

I noticed significant improvements in my anxieties and mood swings especially. Learning about Buddhist psychology also made me look at ADHD in a totally different way. Instead of 'fighting' to concentrate on something, I now accept that my mind wanders a lot, and when I'm aware of it I let go and turn my attention to whatever I was doing at that moment.

 

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