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Traditionally, ADHD has been considered to be a childhood condition. Many people do not realize that ADHD affects adults as well as children; even some health professionals doubt the existence of adult ADHD. However, recent data suggest that symptoms of ADHD continue into adulthood for one-third of persons with childhood ADHD. Research estimates suggest that as many as one in 100 adults would benefit from treatment for ADHD. Though childhood ADHD is diagnosed more frequently in boys than in girls, the variance seems to even out by adulthood.

Symptoms of ADHD in adult life are often associated with difficulties in everyday life at home, at work and with friends and family. There are increased rates of relationship problems, divorce, accidents and under-achievement. There is also an increased risk of developing other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and alcohol and drug addiction.

Recognizing the illness...

Adult ADHD is essentially a name for the developmental impairment of a set of brain functions called ďexecutive functionsĒ. What are these functions? These are the skills involved in planning, selective attention, motivation and impulse control. Adults with ADHD have problems in six major areas of executive functioning:

  1. Activation - Problems with organization, prioritizing and starting tasks.
  2. Focus - Problems with sustaining focus and resisting distraction, especially with reading.
  3. Effort - Problems with motivation, sustained effort and persistence.
  4. Emotion - Difficulty regulating emotions and managing stress.
  5. Memory - Problems with short-term memory and memory retrieval.
  6. Action - Problems with self-control and self-regulation.

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD
Activation Focus Effort
  • Procrastination; difficulty getting started on projects
  • Excessive disorganization and messiness
  • Inability to prioritize tasks
  • Underestimating the time needed to finish a task
  • Inability to screen out distractions
  • "Zoning out" when others are talking
  • Randomly skipping from topic to topic in conversation
  • Reading words over and over in order to grasp the meaning
  • Difficulty sustaining effort over long periods of time
  • Starting multiple tasks, but never completing any of them
  • Missing deadlines
  • Trouble going to sleep at night and staying alert during the day.
Emotion Memory Action
  • Easily bored
  • Low tolerance for frustration and stress
  • Unstable, unpredictable moods
  • Quick temper
  • Constant worrying
  • Trouble remembering things, even for a short time
  • Doesnít recall conversations, things others said
  • Forgetting appointments
  • Constantly losing or misplacing things
  • Inability to delay gratification
  • Speaking without thinking
  • Acting impulsively (e.g. impulsive spending, sudden change of plans) without regard for consequences
  • Jumping to conclusions

Adult ADHD: Myths Vs. Facts

MYTH: ADHD is just a lack of willpower. Persons with ADHD focus well on things that interest them; they could focus on any other tasks if they really wanted to.
FACT: ADHD looks very much like a willpower problem, but it isnít. Itís essentially a chemical problem in the management systems of the brain.

MYTH: Everybody has the symptoms of ADHD, and anyone with adequate intelligence can overcome these difficulties.
FACT: ADHD affects persons of all levels of intelligence. And although everyone has symptoms suggestive of ADHD at some time or the other, only those with chronic impairments from these symptoms warrant a diagnosis of ADHD.

MYTH: ADHD canít really cause much damage to a personís life.
FACT: Untreated or inadequately treated ADHD syndrome often severely impairs learning, education, work life, family life, social interactions and the ability to drive safely.

MYTH: Unless you have been diagnosed with ADHD as a child, you canít have it as an adult.
FACT: Many adults have struggled all their lives with unrecognized ADHD impairments. They havenít received help because they assumed that their chronic difficulties, like depression or anxiety, were caused by other impairments that did not respond to the usual treatments.

Treating the illness...

The same drug treatments proven to be efficacious in children appear to benefit adults with ADHD. Two of these, atomoxetine and methylphenidate, are available in India. These drug treatments, when given at adequate doses, provide significant improvement for around two-thirds of adults with ADHD.

Behavior management strategies for adults with ADHD

Adults with ADHD can also benefit from some basic organizational concepts and behavior management strategies to help manage the condition. Here are ways to train yourself to make the problems more manageable:

  • Take medications as directed. Take your ADHD medications exactly as prescribed. Missing a dose or taking two doses at once to catch up on missed doses can have negative consequences for you and others. If you are noticing side effects or other problems, speak to your health care provider as soon as possible.
  • Organize yourself. Train yourself to become more organized. Make lists of daily tasks (be reasonable!) and strive to complete them. Use a daily planner, leave notes for yourself and set your alarm clock when you need to remember an appointment or other activity.
  • Control impulsive behavior. If you have a tendency to do things you later regret, such as interrupting or getting angry at others, manage the impulse by counting to 10 while breathing slowly instead of acting out. Usually the impulse will pass as quickly as it appeared.
  • Minimize distractions. Find ways to reduce the distractions throughout the day. If you find yourself being distracted by loud music or the television, turn it off or use earplugs. Move yourself to a quieter location or ask others to help reduce distractions.
  • Find constructive outlets for excess energy. People with ADHD sometimes seem to have more nervous energy than others, and this hyperactivity needs to have an outlet of some sort. A hobby or other pastime can be helpful.

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