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Researchers Seek More Objective Methods for Diagnosing ADHD

Aired September 19, 2000 - 1:50 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: There's certainly been controversy about how doctors diagnose ADHD in children. Studies suggest doctors both are overdiagnosing and missing it altogether.

Our medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland tell us about a new method designed to make the process more scientific.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): For now, detecting ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, requires two to three doctor visits as well as reports or opinions from teachers and parents.

RUSSELL BARKLEY, DIR., PSYCHOLOGY & NEUROLOGY, UNIV. OF MASSACHUSETTS: Since that's a subjective piece of information, it does lend just a touch of unreliability at times to the diagnosis.

ROWLAND: So scientists looking for an objective or foolproof diagnostic tool are studying the brains of people with ADHD to see if they can detect it with a single brain scan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be administering the altrapane intravenously here.

ROWLAND: One approach, a chemical called altrapane. Studies show it can distinguish between the brains of adults with ADHD and those that are normal. Altrapane goes to a part of the brain known to be smaller in ADHD patients. It's then measured by a device called a Spec Scan.

BARKLEY: It could become the first objective lab measure that has ever had this degree of promise associated with it for diagnosis of a mental disorder.

ROWLAND: But whether altrapane will work in children and be safe enough, since it uses some radiation, is still an open question.

VINCENT MONASTRA, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST, ATTENTION DISORDERS CLINIC: Look what it did up here to the EEG, to the brain waves.

ROWLAND: Other researchers are examining the use of simple EEG brain scans to distinguish ADHD children from normal children. MONASTRA: I think of this as more like a neurological thermometer. What we're doing is getting an idea of which individuals are showing evidence of too much slow cortical activity relative to fast brain working activity.

ROWLAND: But the government's chief ADHD researcher cautions no brain imaging test is ready yet for routine use in children suspected of having ADHD.

DR. F. XAVIER CASTELLANO, NATL. INST. OF MENTAL HEALTH: We're trying to understand what the disorder is. And once we have a better understanding, then we'll be able to use this and other techniques for improving our ability to diagnose the condition.

ROWLAND: That improvement in ADHD diagnosis may be just three to five years away.

(on camera): In the meantime, experts say, if a child shows signs of ADHD, such as persistent inattention, hyperactivity and academic underachievement, start with a thorough medical evaluation. If it's done right, it should last one to two hours.

Rhonda Rowland, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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