Adult ADHD is a neurological brain disorder that presents itself as a persistent pattern of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typically observed in individuals at the same level of mental development.
ADHD (which usually begins with ADHD in childhood) has only recently been investigated. While some teens outgrow ADHD as they get older, about 60 percent continue to have symptoms late into adulthood.
ADHD is not specifically classified as a learning disorder, but can cause severe learning difficulties in adults and teens.
The Difference Between ADD and ADHD
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is the umbrella disorder, encompassing three sub-groups. These three groups are defined as follows:
* ADD Inattentive Type
* Teens and adults with this disorder are not overly active. They do not disrupt the classroom/office, so their symptoms might not be noticed. Their main difficulty is the inability to focus and concentrate. In teen girls, this sub-group of ADD is the most common.
* ADD Hyperactive/Impulsive Type
In this sub-group of ADD, rarely adults exhibit only hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms. This is classified as ADHD, as it includes the element of hyperactivity.
* ADD Combined Type
Teens and adults with this type of ADD show hyperactive behavior (starting in childhood), impulsive behavior, and cannot focus or concentrate. Hyperactivity symptoms tend to be less noticeable in adults. This is classified as ADHD as it includes the element of hyperactivity, and is the most common form of ADHD.
How Does ADHD Manifest in Adults?
ADHD in adults manifests differently than ADHD in children, as hyperactivity tends to decrease with age (for some but not all).
Although the exact prevalence in adults is unknown, studies thus far reveal that the condition probably exists in about 2 to 4 percent of adults, and is marked by the inability to maintain concentration, difficulty getting work done, procrastination, and organization problems.
A person’s inability to focus, sit still, concentrate, or follow instructions can greatly impair academic development or negatively affect their professional career.
Developing self-regulation is the biggest problem adults face when they have ADHD. This is often not expected of young children but is expected of adults. This self control affects an adult's ability not just to perform tasks, but to determine when they need to be done.
Individuals with ADHD have difficulty with certain brain activity, particularly in the area that is responsible for monitoring the behaviors that control planning and organization. This can be extremely frustrating to the ADHD adult.
When combined with ADHD, other learning disabilities can cause extreme frustration for adults or teens struggling at college or in the workplace. A few symptoms, such as disorganization, weak executive functioning, and inefficient use of strategies can be seen in ADD, ADHD, and other learning disabilities.
Although learning disabilities are common in adolescents with ADHD, they do not affect intelligence. People with ADHD span the same IQ range as the general population.
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How is ADHD Diagnosed?
The diagnostic principles used for ADHD in adults and teens are identical to those for diagnosing ADHD in children. It is important to establish whether the adult ADHD symptoms were also present in childhood, even if they were not previously recognized.
Steps in Making the ADHD Diagnosis
As with ADHD in children, the diagnosis is controversial and has been questioned by some professionals, adults diagnosed with ADHD, and parents of diagnosed teens.
They point out the potentially positive behaviors that some adults with ADHD have, such as hyperfocus. Others believe ADHD is a different form of human behavior and use the term neurodiversity to describe it.
Further, critics suspect ulterior motives of the medical industry, which authorizes the definitions of mental disorders and promotes the use of pharmaceutical drugs for their treatment. These are just some of the aspects making diagnosis of ADHD highly controversial.
Symptoms should be observed in multiple settings such as university, home, work, etc.
Adults (including teens) seeking a possible diagnosis can provide their own history, input, and insight and make the process much easier than in the case of very small children. Adults and teens can vocalize exactly what they feel and put into words the chaos sometimes felt inside. Adults are more likely than teens to realize that they might have ADHD. However, it is still very important to seek a thorough evaluation and professional diagnosis.
The process of diagnosing ADHD must be comprehensive. It requires several steps and involves gathering a multitude of information from multiple sources.
Under no circumstances should ADHD be diagnosed in any individual whose primary diagnosis is an emotional disorder, such as anxiety or depression.
Your health care professional/psychologist should investigate the following areas:
* School history and school reports (looking for specific problems beginning as early as possible that may have been encountered during development)
* Sibling relationships
* Family history (for any occurrence of ADHD)
* Eating habits
* Sleep patterns
* Medical problems (physical problems, particularly allergies)
Your health professional/psychologist will want to know how you handle different situations and may want to observe certain activities and interactions. In addition to looking at behavior, they may do a physical examination.
A full medical history will be needed to put your behavior in context and screen for other conditions that may affect your behavior. Your health care professional/psychologist will also want to talk to you about your feelings and ‘typical’ actions during the course of a routine day.
You will more than likely be asked to provide crucial information about your life at home, behavior in college/work, and in other social settings. Your health care professional/psychologist will want to know what symptoms you have, how long the symptoms have occurred, and how the behavior affects you and your family.
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Other signs or symptoms may be identified, warranting blood tests, brain imaging studies, or an EEG. Blood or other laboratory tests are currently recommended only if your psychologist/health care professional suspects lead toxicity or other medical problems.
Symptoms of ADHD
Described by an author with ADHD:
It's like being super-charged all the time. You get one idea and you have to act on it, and then, what do you know, but you've got another idea before you've finished up with the first one. You then go for that one, but of course a third idea intercepts the second, and you just have to follow that one. Pretty soon people are calling you disorganized, impulsive, and all sorts of impolite words that miss the point completely. Because you're trying really hard. It's just that you have all these invisible vectors pulling you this way and that, which makes it really hard to stay on task."
The ways in which the following characteristics of adult ADHD affect each individual differently. Inattention and memory characteristics include the following:
* May be forgetful in daily activities
* May consistently begin a task and not complete it
* May have a problem following conversations.
* May be difficult to motivate yourself to begin a project
* May have difficulty following a timed schedule
* May be in constant movement
* May get bored easily
* May become restless after a few minutes of inactivity
* May have a great desire for active, risky and fast paced activities
Adult ADHD symptoms are not distinct, clear physical signs that can be seen in an X-ray or show up on a lab test. They can only be identified by looking for certain characteristic behaviors (and these behaviors vary from person to person) and by examining the history.
There are several symptoms for ADHD that seem to get worse when demands at school, college, work or home increase. They are:
* Not listening to instructions
* Inability to get organized
* Fidgeting, especially with the hands and feet
* Talking too much
* Failure to finish projects, including work assignments
* Difficulty paying attention to and responding to details
What Causes ADHD in Adults?
One of the first questions you may have after being diagnosed with adult ADHD is "Why is this affecting me? What went wrong?" or "Did I do something to cause this?
When correctly diagnosed, there is little evidence that ADD can arise purely from social factors or environment. Knowing this can remove a huge burden of guilt from family members or partners who might blame themselves for the individual’s behavior.
Researchers suspect that there are several factors that may contribute to the condition, including:
* Heredity and genetics. The fact that ADHD tends to run in families suggests that children may inherit a genetic tendency to develop an attention-deficit disorder from their parents.
* Chemical imbalance. People who have ADHD may not be able to produce enough chemicals in key areas of the brain that are responsible for organizing thought.
* Brain changes. Areas of the brain that control attention are less active in adults with ADHD than in people without the disorder.
Myths Surrounding the Causes of ADHD
Although the following factors may present symptoms similar to those of ADHD, research has shown that there is no evidence that ADHD is caused by the following:
* Too much TV
* Poor home life
* Poor schools or colleges
* Bad parenting
* Aspartame (or sugar substitutes)
* Lack of vitamins
* Fluorescent lights
* Video games
However, in some cases, the above factors could certainly cause symptoms similar to those seen with ADD in certain individuals. It is worth investigating their impact if a link is suspected.
Help for Adults with ADHD
ADHD is often treated using conventional prescription medications. While there is a place for prescription medication in certain cases of ADD, careful consideration should be taken regarding possible side effects and cautions.
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There are also alternative solutions for ADD and ADHD available. Making simple changes in diet, sleep, exercise, and routine can help. Even trying more involved approaches like incorporating relaxation therapies such as guided imagery, meditation techniques, or yoga can be beneficial.
There are also many herbal and homeopathic remedies which can help maintain harmony, health, and systemic balance in the brain and nervous system, without side effects or sedation. These products are known for their supportive function in maintaining brain, nervous system and circulatory health, and well-being, while reducing or eliminating adult ADHD symptoms.
Who is Likely to Suffer from Adult ADHD?
Although the exact prevalence in adults is unknown, studies so far reveal that the condition, marked by inability to concentrate, having difficulty getting work done, procrastination, or organization problems, probably exists in about 2 to 4 percent of adults.
* School-Related Impairments Linked to adult ADHD
Adults with ADHD may have had:
o A history of poor educational performance, thus a strong likelihood of underachievement
o More frequent school disciplinary actions
o May have repeated a grade
o May have dropped out of school
* Work-Related Impairments Linked to Adult ADHD
Adults with ADHD are more likely to:
o Change employers frequently and perform at less than optimal levels
o Have had fewer occupational achievements, independent of psychiatric status
* Social-Related Impairments Linked to Adult ADHD
Adults with ADHD are more likely to:
o Have a lower socioeconomic status
o Have driving violations such as: speeding tickets, suspended license, car accidents, and/or a record of poor driving
o Use illegal substances more frequently
o Smoke cigarettes
o Self-report psychological maladjustment more often
* Relationship-Related Impairments Linked to Adult ADHD
Adults with ADHD are more likely to:
o Have more marital problems and multiple marriages
o Have higher incidence of separation and divorce
Remember that every individual is unique, and just because you may have been diagnosed with ADD does not mean you will automatically experience or exhibit these behaviors.
Symptoms Indicating Something Other than ADHD
Many symptoms and behaviors can present themselves as symptoms of ADHD. These include:
* Underachievement at college/work due to a learning disability (eg. dyslexia)
* Attention lapses caused by petit mal seizures, also known as absence seizures
* Concentration and learning difficulties due to a sleep disorder or breathing problems
* Disruptive or unresponsive behavior due to physical abuse
* Disruptive or unresponsive behavior due to a family member or partner's substance abuse or dependency on alcohol
* Attention-seeking behavior due to family or partner's lack of interest
* A sudden life change
* Substance abuse
* Medical disorders affecting brain function
* Incorrect level of schooling or incorrect placement at work
* Chronic fear due to a traumatic event
* Disruptive or unresponsive behavior due to anxiety or depression
Under no circumstances should ADD or ADHD be diagnosed in any individual whose primary diagnosis is an emotional disorder, such as anxiety or depression.
It's very important that individuals are thoroughly evaluated and an in-depth history is investigated before the conclusion of adult ADHD is reached.
Other causes of ADHD type symptoms are food intolerance, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), allergies, perceptual difficulties, nutritional problems, candida, hyperthyroidism, Tourette's syndrome, brain dysfunction, family and emotional problems, poor discipline, anxiety, depression, and other conditions. Each of these problems would require different treatment and may even be exacerbated by prescription medication for ADHD.
If other areas are determined to be a possible root cause of the behavior, the diagnosis of ADHD must be put on hold until these areas are fully explored. These include:
* Mental retardation
* Chronic illness being treated with a medication that may interfere with learning
* Trouble seeing and/or hearing
* History of abuse
* Major anxiety or major depression
* Severe aggression
* Possible seizure disorder
* Alcohol or drug abuse