Researchers from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and the Complutense University of Madrid (UC3M), among others, created a platform that allows for the assessment and identification of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in children and teens.
According to the most recent evaluations ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects children and adolescents at 7.2%. It is clinically diagnosed. The diagnosis is based upon the judgment of health care professionals using the patient’s medical history. Sometimes, scales are also completed by caregivers and/or teachers. To date, ADHD has not been diagnosed. In a paper published in Brain SciencesThis team of researchers suggested using a videogame that children are familiar with to identify ADHD symptoms and assess the severity of each case.
This game genre features a running avatar that the player must use to avoid obstacles. “In our game, the avatar is a raccoon that has to jump in order to avoid falling into the holes it will encounter on its route,” explains David Delgado Gómez, the lead author and professor at the UC3M’s Department of Statistics.
“We hypothesise that children diagnosed with ADHD inattentive subtype will make more mistakes by omission and will jump closer to the hole as a result of the symptoms of inattention,” says Inmaculada Peñuelas Calvo, another author of the study, psychiatrist at the Jiménez Díaz Foundation University Hospital and professor at the UCM’s Department of Personality, Evaluation and Clinical Psychology.
The main benefit of this research is that it allows patients to identify symptoms of attention deficit. This allows them to objectively assess the severity of their inattention. It could be used to complement the initial diagnosis and to assess the progression of symptoms or the effectiveness of treatment.
Other benefits include the fact each test takes 7 minutes to complete, and doesn’t require specific hardware. This greatly reduces the cost. It is possible to use conventional personal computers, tablets or mobile devices for remote assessments. “Our findings suggest that a shorter test may be sufficient to accurately assess ADHD clinical symptoms. This makes it especially attractive in clinical settings where time is limited,” researchers note.
A rapid test that allows for early diagnosis
The study was carried out in collaboration with a group of 32 children, between the ages of 8 and 16, diagnosed with ADHD by the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit in the Psychiatry Department at the Jiménez Díaz Foundation University Hospital. Each child took the test under the supervision of a trained professional. The appropriate caregiver completed the inattention subscale of the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and normal behaviour symptom classification scale (SWAN). This is an inventory that includes reports from caregivers and parents to help evaluate ADHD symptoms.
The raccoon must jump over 180 holes, which are divided into 18 blocks. Each block is identified by the speed, length, and width of the raccoon. The length of the trunk and the speed of the avatar determine the time between stimuli, which is about 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5 seconds, while the width of the hole determines how difficult it is to jump over,” Inmaculada Peñuelas explains.
ADHD diagnosis is based mainly on the experience of the healthcare professionals and the observation skills of the caregivers. Multiple studies have shown that these assessments could be affected by affective factors. Therefore, “the development of diagnostic methods such as those proposed in this paper may favour early diagnosis and thus improve these patients’ prognosis,” David Delgado Gómez concludes.
Participants included researchers from the Rey Juan Carlos University as well as the Autonomous University of Madrid, CIBER Mental Health and the Puerta de Hierro Majadahonda University Hospital.