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How coffee can help hyperactive children.

How coffee can help hyperactive children

A clinical psychologist recently described a problem case he had encountered. A routine hyperactive child patient presented a difficulty when the parents positively refused him permission to use the standard medication prescribed in these cases. The child was so restless that he was unable to develop any relationship during the office visit. In desperation he gave the child a glass of cola beverage, and was surprised to find that the youngster calmed down almost immediately.

Later, thinking over the event, he concluded that it must have been the caffeine content of the soft drink that had a calming effect. Recognizing that a cup of coffee contained twice as much caffeine as the cola soda, he experimented by giving the child a cup of brew on the next visit. He was pleased to note it was even more effective. Thereafter, he used coffee exclusively whenever the parents forbade the use of medication in the treatment of their offspring.

Hyperactivity in youths--also called hyperkinesis, minimal or minor cerebral dysfunction, and attention deficit disorder is a serious problem in somewhat less than five percent of all children. Symptoms include short attention span, emotional instability, impulsivity and excessive motion or activity.

These are obviously objective signs, as they are difficult to measure accurately. They occur to a greater or lesser extent in all children. Accordingly the term "hyperactive" has been misused, because its ordinary meaning and medical definition are often confused. A sedentary parent or teacher might describe any normally active child as hyperkinetic.

Medically, this syndrome involves not only a great deal of random activity, inattention, fidgeting, interruptions, but characteristics of high intensity, difficulty in adapting to new situations and most importantly, inability to concentrate on a single subject or activity for a normal period of time.

Diagnosis is not always easy, even for a physician or psychologist. Yet a surprising number of lay people make it with ease. In one reported study, nearly half of a group of young boys were so labeled by their supervisors. On more scientific testing the actual incidence proved to be a small fraction of this amount.

Several years ago, in some special schools, it was found that entire classes were being given medication based upon the teacher's diagnosis of hyperactivity. The resultant sensational news media reports of children being "doped" to calm them down, caused many parents to forbid legitimate practioners from using any medication on their children. This often occurred in true cases of hyperkinesis, where treatment was either extremely difficult or impossible without it.

The standard medication for a number of years for hyperactive children is an F.D.A. approved agent named Ritalin. In verified cases, this is a necessary prelude to psychological, educational and social treatment.

Ritalin is basically a stimulant: if given to an adult or normal child, it demonstrates stimulating effects similar to amphetamines. These have at least five times the potency of caffeine as an invigorant.

For reasons that are not clearly understood, in a genuinely hyperactive child, there is a paradoxical effect. The youngster is calmed down upon the administration of Ritalin and develops an ability to concentrate better, and on the whole to function more effectively. Ritalin has a stabilizing effect, and appears to stimulate centers that counterbalance the cerebral areas that cause his deviant behavior.

Properly used in such a situation, it carries no risk of habituation or dependence. It is usually discontinued after a time with no ill effects, once the child has learned to adjust to its hyperkinesis.

Most common side effects of Ritalin are nervousness and insomnia. These are usually controlled by reducing the dosage. Other reactions include hypersensitivity, skin rash, fever dermatitas, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, headaches or weight loss. These latter symptoms are fairly uncommon when proper dosage has been established. It is recommended that administration be interrupted occasionaly to determine if there is recurrence of the behavioral symptoms sufficient to require continuation of the medication. Often the improvement is sustained when it is either temporarily or permanently discontinued.

Apparently, caffeine perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent, performs similarly to Ritalin in cases like these. Of course, there are many degrees of hyperactivity even in authenticated cases; and this particular one may have been one of the milder instances. Nevertheless, it would probably behoove pediatricians and practicing psychologists to utilize gentler medications like a cup of coffee for ailing children in this category before resorting to more drastic agents.
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Author:Lee, Samuel
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Words:745
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