We often think of ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as something that occurs solely in children.
Indeed it was quite recently believed that children who were diagnosed with ADHD would outgrow the condition due to developmental changes to their brain chemistry, but this is no longer accepted.
Now, many ADHD researchers believe that ADHD is a relatively common behavioural disorder that affects one in 20 adults, with men being the majority of the patients. Scientists have estimated that around seven out of 10 who have ADHD as children will continue to show symptoms of the disorder in adulthood. But as the symptoms aren’t so clear in adults, research into the area has been delayed.
We still don’t know what causes ADHD, in adults or children. Some researchers believe that structural and chemical differences in the brain are responsible, while others believe that a particular group of brain chemicals, known as monoamines, are involved. This makes it difficult to fully understand how ADHD manifests itself in various age groups, and is likely one of the reasons that adult ADHD has been so ignored.
Still it’s important that people are aware that the condition does remain into adulthood and, just as it is in the case of children with ADHD. A better understanding of the condition is key to making life easier for those living with adult ADHD and those around them.
How does ADHD present in adults?
In adulthood, the symptoms of ADHD might be a little different than what you would find in children, although there remain some similarities. Symptoms of ADHD in adults include:
- Unpredictable mood swings
- Careless mistakes in the work environment
- Difficulty paying attention, both at work and outside of work
- Appearing not to listen when spoken to
- Not following instructions or finishing tasks
- Finding it difficult to organise tasks and activities
- Avoiding continuous mental effort in the workplace
- Losing things on a regular basis, particularly those needed to complete tasks
- Being easily distracted
- Being generally forgetful
- Fidgeting and finding it hard to remain seated
- Running to do things
- Being impatient
- Struggling to undertake tasks quietly
- Talking, blurting out things without thinking, and butting into conversations and activities
- Having issues waiting in queues and in similar situations
How does ADHD affect adults?
ADHD is a challenging condition. In the same way it can make life difficult for children, it absolutely affects the quality of life in adults. An adult with ADHD may find it difficult to maintain their relationships, both work and personal, throughout their lives. If they were not diagnosed in childhood and never received any treatment or information into their condition, they are likely to have also done badly at school, something that will ripple through their lives. Adults with ADHD often suffer from low self-esteem issues after a lifetime of trying to deal with their condition, and many aren’t sure how to deal with their feelings.
Unfortunately, some people who are living with ADHD turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with their anger and frustration at how complex their own lives seem compared to others. Adults with ADHD are more likely to also live with personality disorders and psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
But it’s not all bad, many adults with ADHD who have been properly treated and have the condition managed find that their condition helps them to be more imaginative and creative than others.
How does an adult get diagnosed with ADHD?
If an adult was not diagnosed with ADHD as a child, the process for getting an accurate ADHD diagnosis in adulthood can be a multi-part one. As ADHD shares many common symptoms with other disorders like anxiety, depression and more, it’s important that an accurate assessment of the individual in question is undertaken.
There is no single test that proves a person has ADHD as we are still not aware of exactly what causes it. Still, doctors treating an individual will generally rule out other psychological problems, rule out alcohol and drug abuse, check out the person’s current lifestyle and behaviour, examine their childhood medical records, talk to their family and friends, and undertake an EEG test to look for abnormal brain wave patterns. All of the information gathered in these tests can determine whether an adult might have ADHD.
How can ADHD be treated?
Just as there is no test that proves a person has ADHD, so too is there no guaranteed treatment for the condition. However, doctors have found a number of different routes that individuals with ADHD can try, depending on how severe their disorder is. Education plays a big role in treatment, as does lifestyle changes and various kinds of counselling and therapy. Medication, generally of the psychostimulant variety, has also shown itself to be helpful when prescribed to ADHD adults.
At the end of the day, ADHD is not something that should set adults aside from their peers. It is a manageable condition that effects many of our population, spanning all cultures and age groups. With the right diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan, adults with ADHD can be properly supported in their lives.
For further information visit ADHD Australia.