University of Illinois at Chicago researchers were among the first to test memory and emotion in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or bipolar disorder.
Both bipolar disorder and ADHD cause children to have attention problems, become easily irritable, and act impulsively.
Researchers used brain scans from magnetic resonance images (MRI) to analyze brain activity and determine if children having either disorder showed additional similar symptoms.
Children were asked to recall images of faces showing a variety of emotions while the scans took place.
The study involved 56 children between the ages of 10 and 18. There were 19 healthy children, 23 with bipolar disorder, and 14 with ADHD. They were asked to recall facial expressions and attempt to recall images they have seen in a previous trial.
Researchers explain this test as a functional, yet simple test to understand brain functions, specifically memory, when presented with certain emotion.
While analyzing results, researchers noticed children with both disorders showed prefrontal cortex dysfunction when compared to a healthy child, but children with ADHD showed significantly greater dysfunction. This region of the brain processes memories, behaviors, and the ability to pay attention.
Researchers did note children with bipolar disorder have a more difficult time processing emotion than children with ADHD.
Since the two conditions are very similar in terms of behavior, physicians often find it relatively difficult to properly diagnose the condition, which may lead to improperly medicating a child. Giving a child with bipolar disorder a stimulant will increase the severity of the illness, and improperly medicating a child with ADHD will fail to improve the condition as well.
Researchers are working to further differentiate the two illnesses, allowing for targeted treatment in children with bipolar disorder or ADHD.