When it comes to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sometimes parents and caregivers have more questions than answers. ADHD isn’t something that can be diagnosed with a blood test or a brain scan, nor is it certain what role lifestyle factors play in ADHD symptoms. But local experts Dr. Regina Robbins and Dr. Jacqueline Kiefel agree that some parts of ADHD diagnosis and treatment come standard.
Dr. Robbins, who practices at WellStar Medical Group’s Kenmar Pediatrics, breaks down the details of diagnosis. “The common symptoms are hyperactivity, inattention, and/or impulsivity,” she says. In order for a child to be diagnosed with ADHD, there must be documented instances of those symptoms in two or more settings (such as home and school) for at least six months. These symptoms must appear before age 12 and cause impairment of academic or social activities. If a diagnosis of ADHD is reached, controlling some basic lifestyle factors can be helpful.
Diet – Dr. Kiefel, a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says some parents report a worsening of their child’s symptoms whenever they consume more sugar. To be safe, she says parents should “monitor sugar intake in their children and modify diet and daily habits accordingly,” opting for more fresh vegetables, healthy dips and nuts to avoid exacerbating symptoms.
Sleep – Ample sleep each night is key for every child. Citing research conducted by Dr. Dean Beebe with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Dr. Kiefel says there exists “a large association between a childhood sleep problem and the development of an attention problem over time.” Plus, ADHD can make a child more prone to sleep problems and daytime fatigue, making it even more important to emphasize a good night’s sleep.
Exercise – Research shows that children with ADHD who exercise struggle less with impulsivity and perform better on tests of attention. “Researchers believe that exercise increases blood flow to certain areas of the brain that play a role in regulating emotions and behavior,” Dr. Kiefel explains, so at least 20 minutes a day outside is a good idea.