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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder which frequently persists into adulthood. The primary goal of the current study was to (a) investigate attentional functions of stimulant medication-naïve adults with ADHD, and (b) investigate the effects of 6 weeks of methylphenidate treatment on these functions.
The study was a prospective, non-randomized, non-blinded, 6-week follow-up design with 42 stimulant medication-naïve adult patients with ADHD, and 42 age and parental education-matched healthy controls. Assessments included measures of visual attention, based on Bundesen's Theory of Visual Attention (TVA), which yields five precise measures of aspects of visual attention; general psychopathology; ADHD symptoms; dyslexia screening; and estimates of IQ.
At baseline, significant differences were found between patients and controls on three attentional parameters: visual short-term memory capacity, threshold of conscious perception, and to a lesser extent visual processing speed. Secondary analyses revealed no significant correlations between TVA parameter estimates and severity of ADHD symptomatology. At follow-up, significant improvements were found specifically for visual processing speed; this improvement had a large effect size, and remained when controlling for re-test effects, IQ, and dyslexia screen performance. There were no significant correlations between changes in visual processing speed and changes in ADHD symptomatology.
ADHD in adults may be associated with deficits in three distinct aspects of visual attention. Improvements after 6 weeks of medication are seen specifically in visual processing speed, which could represent an improvement in alertness. Clinical symptoms and visual attentional deficits may represent separate aspects of ADHD in adults.
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