Many products, treatments, and services are available and advertised to help individuals with ADHD. Each day, more and more products come on the market that claim to cure ADHD, help people with ADHD focus, or help them organize. Often, these claims are not supported by evidence-based research or clinical practice. Adults and families dealing with ADHD, like most consumers, want the most value for their money and need treatments that provide the most improvement for their dollars spent.
According to Max Wiznitzer, MD, “Scientific research is important for everything we do in our lives. If you are taking a medicine, you have to make sure that 1) it is safe to take and 2) it works for the condition we’re treating.”
When it comes to treatment, scientists and doctors like to use the term “efficacy,” which is a fancy word that basically means whether a treatment does what it says it does and whether it works for the condition it’s designed to work for.
How Medical Treatments Are Tested
One of the ways to measure efficacy is through clinical trials. Treatments involving medication undergo thorough testing to make sure they work for the condition they are designed to treat and are safe to take before the Federal Drug Administration will allow the medication to be sold.
Many of these medications are first tested on animals, and once they’re found to be safe in them, researchers give the medication under controlled conditions to humans in what is called a “trial.” These trials are designed to test the effectiveness of the drug and also whether they are safe for humans. During the clinical trials, some of the participants are given a fake or pretend medication known as a “placebo.” The individuals participating in the medication trials are randomly placed in the two groups. They don’t even know whether they are in the group that gets the medication or the one that is given the placebo. The participants are carefully monitored during the testing period. Afterward, they are examined to see if there is any improvement in the condition. Finally, the results of those given the medication are compared to those who were not.
Sometimes, just the thought of being on a medication is enough to make a difference. This is called the “placebo effect,” and researchers must consider this when analyzing their study data to make sure that any changes they see are not due to this effect.
This process for testing treatments is called “randomized controlled trials.” The effectiveness of non-medication treatments can also be tested using randomized controlled trials.
Making Smart Choices
When making your decision to purchase and use a particular product, we encourage you to consult with a trained health care professional who knows your medical history and has expertise and experience in diagnosing and treating ADHD.
When evaluating treatments that may work for your family, the following tips may be helpful.