Updated 14 June 2017

Can iPhone apps help those with ADHD?

Playing video games can help improve kids' self-confidence, working memory and social skills.


Most parents start to worry when they see their children glued to their electronics, playing games for hours, but what if these electronic video games could actually help those with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), South Africa’s most commonly diagnosed chronic childhood disorder?

Smartphone, tablet and computer games have literally been game changers for children with ADHD, as they have come to improve children’s self-confidence, working memory and social skills.

In the last decade, ADHD has become an overused term to describe anyone who is easily bored or distracted. However, in reality, ADHD is a neurological disorder that has affected many people all around the world.

Those diagnosed with ADHD often find their work and academic performance affected by their disorder.

ADHD can affect a person’s ability to remember simple tasks; to stay focused on a task for long periods of time; it can cause those affected to fidget, making it hard for them to keep still; and it can make one too hasty when trying to make decisions.

Those diagnosed with ADHD have trouble remembering things because they are easily distracted by the things that surround them. Therefore, improving their working memory capacity teaches them to pay closer attention to things, manage their emotions better, resist distractions and learn.

If you type the words “brain training games” into your smartphone’s App Store, more than 1,000 results will pop up claiming that they can help train your brain.

When a child plays these games, she will most likely be presented with a number of tasks that will challenge her mind. As each task is completed, the levels get harder and harder. These brain challenging games have been proven to train distracted children to pay more attention.

In 2002, a psychologist, Torkel Klingberg, at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute published a study examining 14 children with ADHD. All of the children were asked to play video games for a total of 10.5 hours over a five-week period. These games put a high demand on the children’s working memory.

Seven of the children only played the games at beginner’s level; the other seven children played the game as the levels got harder and harder, which meant that they also got better and better.

The study found that the children who improved by playing the game had improved their working memory as well. Their hyperactivity also decreased.

Though medical professionals and therapists believe these games are a great way to train easily distracted children to stay focused, they are not treatments for ADHD as such. Behavioural therapy and medication are the best ways to treat the condition. 

Read more:

Taking control of ADHD

Can omega-3 reduce antisocial behaviour in children?

Sources: Venture Beat, Additude MagazineThe Atlantic and SA Pharmaceutical Journal


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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