The brain and ADHD
The aim of this section is to give you a birds eye view of the developing brain and what happens to it when affected by ADHD. This is a more simplified version of the changes that occur in the brain of a child with ADHD.
One of the major areas of the brain affected by ADHD is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that lies in front above our eyes and behind our foreheads. it is the most important part of the brain as it is involved in attention, planning and decision making. It is also involved in judgement and rational decision making. The child with ADHD often has difficulties in paying attention and concentration due to this part of the brain being affected. The child with ADHD is also forgetful and shifts from one task to another due the brain here being affected. The child with ADHD is often accident prone and impulsive i.e. acts without a thought about future consequences of the action he will undetake due to an impaired prefrontal cortex that does not allow him to take rational decisions at times.
At a chemical level our brain is equipped with a chemical called dopamine that acts a messenger to transfer information from one neuron to another. There are some abnormalities in the dopamine system seen in ADHD whereby dopamine may be more or less in different parts of the brain. The role of medication used in ADHD is to stabilize the dopamine system. Dopamine is an excitatory chemical and keeps the brain active when in excess in certain areas of the brain, accounting for the symptoms of hyperactivity seen in a child with ADHD.
Achieving chemical stability in the brain takes time and hence the medicines prescribed might take 3 to 4 weeks to show full effect. Also in order to achieve long lasting changes in the brain one has to be on medications for at least 2 to 3 years.
The prefrontal cortex is also responsible for executive functions that are impaired in ADHD. Executive function is a function aimed at planning when multiple tasks have to be undertaken for example when writing an exam answer paper or planning a study time table which is affected in ADHD.