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Could a video game, combined with electrical brain stimulation, help children with ADHD?

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Estimates suggest around one in 40 children in the UK has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).1 Children with ADHD tend to be hyperactive and impulsive, and have a short attention span, meaning they’re easily distracted. They can’t control this behaviour very well, which can seriously impact life at home and at school. Professor Katya Rubia, of King’s College London, is investigating the potential of a new, drug-free approach to treatment, which combines a specially designed video game with electrical brain stimulation. The need for a new treatment that offers long-term benefits for children with ADHD without causing side effects is high.

This project is funded by a generous donation from the Garfield Weston Foundation.

How are children’s lives affected now?

“Having ADHD can have serious consequences in life, affecting children’s concentration in the classroom, their academic performance and their relationships with parents, teachers and peers,” says Professor Rubia. Children with ADHD are prone to other problems too, including depression, anxiety and difficulties sleeping at night.

There's no cure for ADHD, but children can benefit from talking therapies and social skills training, along with educational support for their parents. If this doesn’t work well enough, or if children’s symptoms are severe, they are offered medication.

“Although medication is often highly effective in the short term, there is little evidence that it helps in the longer term and benefits are immediately lost if children stop taking their medication,” says Professor Rubia. “What’s more, medication can have side effects, it doesn’t work for everyone, it is disliked by many teenagers and the long-term effects on the developing brain are unknown. Safer and more effective drug-free treatments would be highly desirable.”

How could this research help?

The researchers are investigating whether a possible new, drug-free approach to treatment might benefit children with ADHD.

The treatment involves playing a specially designed video game while receiving what’s called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). The video game is designed to help children to become less impulsive and more able to pay attention without being distracted. tDCS involves stimulating underactive areas of the brain with weak electric currents – using electrodes placed on the scalp – and the researchers are investigating whether it enhances the effects of the video game with a group of boys with ADHD.

“If our new approach to treatment, of combining video games and stimulation of the brain, shows promise, we will set up a larger clinical trial with more children, with the ultimate goal of giving children with ADHD a new drug-free treatment option,” adds Professor Rubia.


1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Clinical Knowledge Summary. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.!backgroundsub Website accessed 25 October 2015.



Project LeaderProfessor Katya E Rubia PhD
Project TeamProfessor Anthony David MB ChB MSC MD MRCP MRCPsychProfessor Philip Asherson MBBS MRCPsych PhDProfessor Roi Cohen Kadosh PhD
Project LocationChild and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London
Project Location OtherDepartment of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College LondonSocial Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry MRC Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College LondonDepartment of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford
Project duration3 years
Date awarded3 October 2016
Project start date20 November 2017
Project end date19 November 2020
Grant amount£199,999
Grant codeGN2426

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