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Improving focus and attention in ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavior disorder affecting more children and adults each year. Symptoms of ADHD include being distracted, forgetful, trouble focusing, failing to follow directions, being overly fidgety and having a hard time with quiet play.

Conventional doctors often prescribe amphetamines which can come with common side effects like moodiness, stunted growth, delayed sleep and decreased appetite. If it’s not the unwanted side effects, studies also show 20-35% of patients don’t respond to these medications. So, what is a parent to do? Thankfully, there are alternatives that include a whole-body approach to treating the root cause of ADHD symptoms.

Structure

All children benefit from structure. Kids with ADHD thrive with even more structure than the average child. Providing structure for your child’s day means enacting rules about bedtime, meal time, naps and freetime and sticking with those rules!

Having structure and routine in your day helps a child learn boundaries, self-discipline and patience. Be consistent. Show your child that each day begins with a healthy breakfast and brushing our teeth. This soon turns into an easy morning routine. Remember, routines need to be seen, practiced and repeated, so be patient, this won’t happen overnight.

Play time

Every kid needs time to play and move, especially those with ADHD. Regular physical activity encourages proper neurotransmitter production and enhances brain activity.  Children with ADHD have been found to have impaired serotonin and dopamine production, so include exercise into their routine. As little as a half hour a day of moderate or intense activity improves mood and focus, but everyone should strive for 60 minutes of physical activity everyday. 

Media culture

Exercise and physical activity are so important for a healthy mind and body. While thinking of how you are going to incorporate 60 minutes of exercise into your child’s routine, it is also important to think of what those 60 minutes should be without: electronic media.

Television, video games and cell phones often replace exercise. When it comes to helping the ADHD child gain more focus, limit TV watching, phone apps and gaming. These can overstimulate the brain and lead to sensory addiction. This can manifest into more impulsiveness and restlessness. Swap to games that exercise the mind to improve focus, concentration and motor skills like jigsaw puzzles, word searches or memory games.

Sleep

Inadequate sleep or poor sleep quality can greatly impact ADHD symptoms. A sleep deprived child can become overactive or overly emotional. To help improve sleep quality, remember to include structure and routine into your child’s day. Set the same bedtime and wake time each day, even on the weekends. Chamomile tea before bed can be very calming, while significant sleep problems might benefit from low-dose melatonin.

Neurofeedback

People with ADHD tend to have delayed brain wave patterns. This delay can result in difficulty concentrating. Neurofeedback is a form of brain training that improves brain function and aims to improve concentration, learning and sleep patterns. It teaches the brain how to function better, while ultimately changing brain wave patterns. The training is noninvasive and requires no medication. The patient sits in front of a computer screen connected to electrodes applied to various areas of the scalp. Special software measures the brain’s activity and teaches the brain how to concentrate.

Diet interventions

People with ADHD symptoms often suffer from food sensitivities or food allergies. Some research has suggested a link exists between ADHD symptoms, food dyes and preservatives.

While some doctors may say there is no connection between sugar and hyperactivity, I think most parents have experienced a child’s sugar high and know sugar does affect behavior. Changing your child’s diet should be done in small steps. Start by just reading ingredient labels on packaged foods. If they contain food dyes or words you don’t understand, look for a different option. Start limiting popular packet drink aids and fruit juices. Slowly eliminate them from the diet altogether.  The most common food allergens are wheat, soy, corn, peanuts, dairy, eggs, fish and shellfish. Learn to eliminate these from the diet to see if they help improve your child’s symptoms.

Supplements

Research does suggest that supplementing with certain nutrients can help treat some symptoms of ADHD. Fish oil, or omega-three fatty acids, are anti-inflammatory and help feed the brain the fats it needs to function optimally. Deficiencies in magnesium are also quite common as current farming practices have caused a decrease in the magnesium levels in foods. Similarly, a deficiency in vitamin B-6 can cause fatigue and irritability. Research shows supplementing with magnesium and B-6 for at least two months can significantly improve hyperactivity, attention and aggressiveness. n

Angela Halderson is an Integrative & a Functional Nutritionist trained in LEAP/MRT food sensitivity testing and is a Certified Meridian Stress Technician. She is a member of the National Academy of Nutrition Professionals and works to restore balance in people’s lives through guided lifestyle changes, holistic interventions and using food as medicine.

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