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FEATURES
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NURTURING YOUNG MINDS AND BODIES

Physician-researchers are pursuing new avenues to help children who face special challenges to grow and develop into healthy adults.


Focusing Attention On ADHD

 "" PHOTO — Julie Schweitzer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and researcher at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Instituter
 
Julie Schweitzer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and researcher at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Instituter
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While in graduate school, when Julie Schweitzer started to focus on children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a professor tried to steer her in other directions.

"'Why worry too much about kids with ADHD?' he asked me," Schweitzer remembers. "'They'll just grow out of it.'"

But Schweitzer was undeterred. Now an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and researcher at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute, Schweitzer has established an active research program for children with ADHD – and the many adults who continue to have problems with the disorder.

Common psychiatric

disorder ADHD is the most common psychiatric disorder in childhood, affecting 3 percent to 5 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. More than their peers, children with ADHD tend to act impulsively and to daydream. They find it difficult to stay on task and become easily sidetracked. Family life, school performance and social relationships often suffer as a result.

PHOTO — ADHD is the most common psychiatric
disorder in childhood, affecting 3 percent to 5 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. ADHD researcher Julie Schweitzer heads up a team that is trying to tease out exactly what makes children with ADHD different.  ""

ADHD is the most common psychiatric disorder in childhood, affecting 3 percent to 5 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. ADHD researcher Julie Schweitzer heads up a team that is trying to tease out exactly what makes children with ADHD different.
 
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Schweitzer heads up a team that is trying to tease out exactly what makes children with ADHD different. Using novel experiments that challenge the thresholds of attention and judgment in children with ADHD, the group uses pupilsize measurements (an indicator of norepinephrine levels) and functional MRI scans to try to pinpoint differences in neurotransmitters that one day may be targeted for therapy.

In a recent study published in Child Neuropsychology, Schweitzer found that children with ADHD show more variable or inconsistent responses during short-term memory tasks when compared with typically developing peers. While previous studies suggested that children with ADHD might be slower at responding to tasks, her study shows that their inconsistent response times helps explain why working memory may be fine at one moment and poor at another, just as one day a child with ADHD seems to be able to learn and focus in class yet seems distracted and not paying attention on another.

Behavioral therapy

Further research at the M.I.N.D. Institute is designed to improve behavioral therapy for ADHD. Parent and teacher training is a big part of it. As a result, children can often function as well with lower dosages of medication. Schweitzer and her team also are reaching out to schools and mental health facilities in the greater Sacramento area to increase recognition and care of this often frustrating disorder.

Schweitzer looks forward to using her research to expand clinical services at the M.I.N.D. Institute. Key is a thorough evaluation to rule out the many other disorders that can manifest symptoms of ADHD, she says. Next, patients need an individualized treatment approach that is monitored regularly for effectiveness and adjusted as needed.

"We look forward to offering a full spectrum of care," says Schweitzer. "We want to address the needs of patients of any age with ADHD, based on solid clinical evidence of the most effective pharmacological and behavioral interventions."

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  "We want to address the needs of patients of any age with ADHD, based on solid clinical evidence of the most effective pharmacological and behavioral interventions." — Julie Schweitzer Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Researcher — UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute  
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