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Dr. Hallowell's Blog

Atentiv – Non-Medication Technology for the Training of Attention

For the past 5 years I’ve worked with a company named Atentiv to research and develop a promising new product that trains attention and helps regulate impulse control.
When the principal of the company, Eric Gordon, a man experienced in developing medical technologies, approached me in 2011 about his new product, I was deeply skeptical. People come to me all the time with new products, the majority of which cannot deliver on what they promise.

However, as Eric persisted and showed me solid results from early studies, I decided to get involved. Full disclosure, I am now a very minor stockholder in the company and am paid a monthly retainer to consult and help with research.

Atentiv is, in my opinion, the most promising non-medication technology on the horizon for the training of attention. I see its applicability someday not only for ADHD, but for a far broader audience, namely, the many millions of people of all ages who would like a simple means of increasing their ability to attend.

I asked Eric to write about Atentiv for my newsletter, and the following is what he wrote:

There has been a lot of recent publicity about companies with ‘brain training games’ that have made various unfounded claims about ‘healing the brain’ using our natural brain development process – the phenomenon called neuroplasticity. These claims have promised to help users perform better in school, home and work. Some of these companies have promised to fix ADHD, memory loss, dementia and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age, including Alzheimer’s disease and other serious mental health conditions.

These brain training companies have been popping up because researchers over the past few decades have made exciting discoveries in neuroscience, particularly in neuroplasticity, proving that our brains are not permanently set in childhood and that we can change how our brains work throughout our lifetime with certain kinds of exercises.

These discoveries have extraordinary implications for us all. Knowing this, opportunistic companies have jumped a bit too quickly to market products that they claim produce dramatic improvements in all manner of cognitive functions. However, few of these companies actually understand the neuroscience, fully develop and test products and establish strong evidence on sound scientific standards required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission and other authoritative bodies.

That many such products lack the scientific rigor and establishment of appropriate evidence to support outlandish claims has led to the negative publicity in the news of late. Because of my passion to find, develop and provide new solutions in mental health, I too have seen many products over my professional career that made many similar claims. Unfortunately the vast majority have failed because they took a shorter path without the rigor and diligence.
But in developing Atentiv, I was careful to proceed slowly and with care. When I approached Dr. Hallowell, in 2011, he was at first highly skeptical. But when I told him about the core technology that was developed in Singapore’s Agency of Science, Technology and Research along with world-class neuroscientists at Duke University, he then agreed to join the investigation. He offered his Sudbury, MA clinic as one of two sites in a Phase 1 proof-of-concept study for a novel ADHD therapeutic in 20 children with ADHD ages 8-12. Dr. Hallowell’s colleague at the time, Dr. Paul Sorgi, was the principal investigator in Sudbury and oversaw completion of the study protocol.

The results of this study along with two other studies in Singapore were impressive and indicated the potential for a first line therapeutic for childhood ADHD that did not include medication. Subsequently, Dr. Hallowell’s Sudbury and NYC clinics participated in a 5 site Phase 2 study in 2014 with 70 children. I then asked Dr. Hallowell to join our Advisory Board for significant product development and clinical strategy work in return for common stock and cash compensation.

Atentiv has now completed multiple well-designed studies, including randomized, controlled studies with over 225 children ages 8-12. Large scale studies are now underway in 160 ADHD children and 240 adults. A pivotal FDA registration study in approximately 200 ADHD children will soon be initiated here in the US. The purpose of this study is to obtain FDA clearance to market a specialized series of therapeutic product applications for a medical professional’s treatment of ADHD in children ages 7-18.

In addition, Atentiv plans to launch a different series of consumer product applications only for use in home and school. Atentiv’s consumer products are directed at optimizing the vital skills of attention for home, school, and life. The initial products will be available for consumers to purchase in the fall of 2016. These consumer products require an individual to spend 20 minutes 3 – 4 times a week playing a simple computer game for 5 – 8 weeks for a total of 8 hours of playing the game. The improvements in behavior and academic performance demonstrated in randomized and controlled studies were as follows:

1. 30-40% improvement in attention and impulse control
2. Over a half grade level improvements in processing (fluency) abilities in math and reading on a standardized academic achievement test
3. 30-40% improvement in test question and answer accuracy on timed math test
4. 35% reduction in problems related to successfully completing homework as reported by parents
5. 25% improvement in the ability to complete written work during class as reported by teachers
6. Significant improvements in abilities to plan and initiate tasks as reported by parents and teachers
7. Sustained improvements for 3-5 months, minimum

As I stated, I am now a paid consultant for Atentiv, and I own stock in the company. The reason I am so enthusiastic about the product is not because it stands to make me money (although I hope it does!), but because I have seen firsthand the efficacy of the technology.

What it does, in my own words, is help the player of the game, child or adult, identify and then dynamically work what I call the person’s “muscle of attention.” Of course, no such muscle exists, rather precisely defined brain circuits that begin to develop in early childhood and mature in early adulthood. Each circuit directly contributes to a unique set of cognitive skills that makes up a game player’s attention and impulse controls. Each player uses these precisely defined circuits (i.e., using a really cool headset) to move through an adventure story entirely controlled by using their own brainwave activity associated only with these precise circuits. Playing the Atentiv game allows the player first of all to identify their own “muscle of attention,” and then work it against a series of challenge tasks that are each designed to raise multiple skill levels like divided, selected or alternating attention or like interference inhibition, self-regulation and delayed gratification.

What is particularly wonderful at least in the studies so far, is that this new-found capacity to call upon one’s attention muscle at will and to use it, continues well after one has played the game because of unique skill retention methods. Much as a workout at the gym builds muscles that last after you leave the gym, so does what you build by playing through the entire ATENTIVmynd Game long after you have logged off the final mission of the adventure.

We need more research, more studies, more people to experience firsthand what ATENTIVmynd Games can do before we can make grand claims. Neither I nor the people at Atentiv want to claim too much, too soon.

But I can say that I have not seen any single technology produce results that the Atentiv system does. As of now the best ways to improve one’s attention and reduce impulsivity are: physical exercise; medication; meditation; and education and coaching.

I see Atentiv soon being added to that list. And, as I stated, I see its application being far beyond the world of ADHD. I see executives everywhere, and harried, hurried individuals around the world, playing these adventure games a few times a week much as they might go to the gym.

Unlike the companies who have stumbled into mistakes and bad publicity, Atentiv is laying a solid foundation in careful research. Once the data is all in, I do believe we will have a game-changer.

I encourage you to learn more about the science of learning, Atentiv’s evidence base, and consumer products to optimize attention skills at www.atentiv.com. Please fill out your contact information so that they can advise you of upcoming news, knowledge and answer any of your questions.

– Dr. Edward Hallowell

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