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ADHD kids could benefit from lifestyle apps

Source:Ringier Medical     Date:2015-06-04
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Smart watch illustration © Nattle | Dreamstime.comCHILDREN and young people with ADHD can find it difficult to keep appointments and easily to forget what they have to bring with them in different situations. Their lives can be made easier if they use a smartwatch or a calendar displayed on a mobile phone or tablet, researchers investigating these technologies. Such aids may use a combination of pictures, sounds or text to remind them about where they have to be and when, and the things they have to do.
 
Researchers at SINTEF, the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia, believe that children with autism or ADHD can benefit from technologies originally developed for the elderly. Last year, they tested a variety of systems involving a total of four children with the help of three families.
 
Øystein Dale, together with his colleague at SINTEF Lisbet Grut, has been looking into how smartphones, tablets, smart watches and shared calendar systems can provide support for children and their families in their everyday lives.
 
"Our experience is that it takes time to set the systems up and that using them can sometimes be difficult," said researcher Øystein Dale. "But we can also claim that these are aids that can be of benefit to these groups."
 
Wake-up lights and shared calendars
 
Fourteen year-old Lisa is one of the ADHD children taking part in the study. She finds it difficult to get going in the mornings and organise her day-to-day activities.
 
In order to help her first get to sleep and then get up in the mornings, Lisa tried using a wake-up light linked to an iPhone app. The system simulated sunlight and played music that gave her a gentle start to the day. She only used the wake-up light for a few weeks up until the school summer holidays, but was pleased with how it worked. Her mother agreed that the morning routine went easier when Lisa used the light.
 
Lisa tried out a shared calendar app to help her in her everyday activities. She got reminders about things she had to do both on her iPhone and on a smart watch connected to the phone. Her mother also got a message on her phone as soon as Lisa checked off that she had completed an activity.
 
The original set-up using a shared Google calendar was swapped for an Apple product involving a built-in task list with reminders.
 
"This was better suited to Lisa's and her mother's needs," said Grut. "Mother entered the things that had to be done, and Lisa checked them off on the phone when she had finished them."
 
Navigating through multiple choices
 
There is a huge number of technologies on the market, but the wide variety of technologies available makes it difficult to navigate the market and identify the system that works best in individual cases. It is important that systems intended to support children are not made up of too many different components. 
 
During the testing process, the researchers also found that set-ups consisting of many interconnected components are vulnerable to technical problems. A good example is when a calendar is shared between many people involving multiple appointment reminders on both mobile phones and smart watches. It proved difficult to get such systems to function consistently well over time.
 
"We believe that our knowledge about how technology can be applied may enable children to function better in their day-to-day lives, both at school and in other social situations," said Dale. "This will contribute towards enhancing their quality of life, and that of their families.”
 
Children and their families need effective guidance and facilitation, and close supervision by professionals over time. “The positive aspect here is that these days children probably own and use tablets and similar technologies all the time, and are curious and eager to try new ones out," Dale said.
 
SINTEF has carried out many projects involving technological support for children and young people with ADHD and/or autism. Work is continuing on these issues as part of the "Erre mulig" (It is possible?) project, which is a three-year public sector innovation initiative funded by the Norwegian Regional Research Funds/Oslofjord Fund.
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