Neurofeedback as a new treatment for ADHD

Around one in 14 children worldwide is affected by attention-deficit/hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), with most cases diagnosed between 6 and 12 years old.

Children with ADHD tend to have a poor attention span, concentration difficulties and are often restless and/or impulsive. Medicines can help but can also have unwanted side-effects and do not work for everyone. The brain can become less responsive over time. Unfortunately, there is a lack of effective alternatives.

Using a computer game with neurofeedback

We have developed a potential new ADHD treatment called neurofeedback. A fun computer game trains the brains of children with ADHD during brain scanning (functional magnetic resonance imaging). While training, the children receive feedback about when their brain activity increases, shown as a rocket moving in the videogame.

Young people with ADHD were trained to control the area of the brain responsible for self-control and attention (right frontal cortex) during scanning. After four hours of training sessions, children with ADHD learnt to control their brain activity and performed attention tasks better.  


Training resulted in improvements in ADHD symptoms in all participants, but only those asked to control activity in the right frontal cortex became better at specific attention tasks. Those children showed improvement in ADHD symptoms a year after the training, suggesting long-lasting benefits of neurofeedback.

There were also changes across connected areas of the brain (networks) responsible for attention and self-control, with activity in networks for ADHD-related ‘mind-wandering’ reduced. There were no side effects.

Further funding to explore brain-based therapies

The initial study led to MRC funding (£1.3m) for a larger trial with 100 children with ADHD, to compare neurofeedback to placebo, where the patient receives an inactive version of the intervention (i.e., playing a similar game, without neurofeedback). The work also led to new local, US (National Institute of Mental Health) and EU (Dresden University) collaborations. We have since secured funding (approximately £2m; NIHR, Action Medical Research) to trial other brain-based techniques in ADHD, including different types of non-invasive brain stimulation treatments.

These brain-based techniques could potentially lead to safe, longer-lasting, drug-free alternative treatments for ADHD, that are likely to be preferred by parents, patients and clinicians.



Novel Diagnostics and Therapeutics | National and International Collaboration