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Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D.
Arshya Vahabzadeh M.D.

Diagnosing ADHD by brain waves?

A new brainwave test for ADHD diagnosis has gained FDA approval.

Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects 11% of children ages 4-17, and the numbers diagnosed continue to rise. ADHD continues to be one of the most common childhood mental health conditions. Children with ADHD may be inattentive, hyperactive, and can be inappropriately impulsive in their actions. Children with untreated ADHD can experience substantial problems with their personal relationships, school performance, and have been reported to have more substance use problems in adulthood. Over a third of children with autism may also have ADHD according to the lastest research.

Traditionally ADHD has been diagnosed based on a psychological and medical interview, information from school teachers, and a direct observation of a child’s behavior. Until recently the most objective diagnostic tool for ADHD was the use of paper rating scales.

Now a new test may change how a diagnosis of ADHD is made. Earlier this week, the FDA approved the NEBA system, a brain wave test, as a tool to help diagnose ADHD. NEBA, an acronym for Neuropsychiatric EEG-Based Assessment Aid, analyzes brain waves using electroencephalogram (EEG) technology. EEGs record the electrical impulses produced by brain nerve cells, and help determine the different brain wave types and frequencies. EEGs are already commonly used in hospitals to monitor brainwave patterns during sleep and in seizure disorders.

The NEBA test is both non-invasive, and relatively quick to administer, typically taking between 15-20 minutes. The science behind the test lies in analyzing the proportions of two different types of brain waves, namely beta and theta waves. Research has shown that children with ADHD have a higher ratio of theta waves to beta waves when compared to children without ADHD.

In the research study submitted to the FDA, NEBA was demonstrated to improve the accuracy of an ADHD diagnosis when combined with a clinical assessment, compared to a clinical assessment alone. Experts however have been cautious, suggesting while NEBA may be a useful aid to diagnosis, it should not be used in isolation, but should be combined with a through psychological and medical assessment.

About the Author
Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D.

Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D., is a resident child psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School. He is an APA Leadership Fellow.

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