August 24, 2009
Adults With ADHD Don’t Have to Suffer Alone
By Dr. Jeremy Hertza, Neuropsychologist and Director of Behavioral Medicine
Walton Rehabilitation Health System
Augusta, GA—What could be dismissed as hyperactivity and misbehavior in a child could cause big problems in both relationships and career when that child grows into an adult.
And the possible cause? Adult ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. As an adult syndrome, it’s not very commonly discussed, and with almost 10 percent of children in the U.S. believed to have ADHD, it’s no wonder that most consider it a pediatric disorder. While ADHD tends to be overdiagnosed in children, still, about 60 percent of children who had ADHD will continue to have symptoms into adulthood, and adult ADHD could be more prevalent since some adults may never have been diagnosed as children.
In children, symptoms of ADHD typically include attention difficulties, hyperactivity and impulsivity. These can manifest a little differently in adults. While attention difficulties remain, adults tend to be less physically hyperactive and more mentally restless. For example, a child with ADHD might run around a classroom, unable to sit, while an adult might be able to sit in a meeting, but his mind might be running endlessly. Impulsivity continues too, but the consequences are more severe. Where a child might get into trouble for talking back to a teacher, an adult could be fired from a job or be unable to maintain a relationship.
Other symptoms include rapid mood shifts (for example, an adult with ADHD tends to be bored quickly or have an explosive temper) and higher levels of anxiety and depression due to the stress of living with ADHD. Substance abuse prevalence also tends to be higher in adults with ADHD.
While everyone may have some of these traits to some degree, these alone don’t confirm a diagnosis. The defining characteristic of ADHD is that the grouping of symptoms impairs how a person functions in society. Studies have shown that high percentages of adults with ADHD report problems with memory and organization, are easily distracted and have trouble thinking through challenges. These problems could have a huge impact on maintaining a job, managing children’s schedules, even paying attention while driving.
The good news is that help is available. However, many adults aren’t aware they may have ADHD until their child’s symptoms are diagnosed and they think, “Hey, that’s me, too.” If you have never been diagnosed, but suspect you might have ADHD, consider visiting a neuropsychologist, who can use assessment tools to check different functional areas of the brain and look for patterns that will provide a definitive diagnosis of ADHD.
Once you’ve been diagnosed, a team approach to treatment is recommended for optimum results. This team may include a neuropsychologist, a psychologist, a primary care provider as well as the patient and family. Similar to executive coaching, a neuropsychologist can help families develop a structured plan to help a patient become more organized, learn how to pay attention and, ultimately, succeed. This can be as simple as developing a calendar system or as comprehensive as finding a new, more interactive job that’s a better fit. A psychologist can help counsel families through issues that arise as a result of the ADHD, while the primary care provider can help with medications, if needed, that can provide extra support to patients. Finally, it’s important that the patient and family understands what the diagnosis means and what they need to do to work together and learn to live with ADHD.
For the adult with ADHD, every day can be a challenge. If these symptoms sound familiar, visit your doctor for a referral to a specialist who can help diagnose your symptoms and provide treatment. Remember, you don’t have to suffer alone.
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