It’s not just kids who have ADHD - Maybe it’s you. Here’s what to do.
Do you have trouble sitting through a movie or a long dinner conversation? Are you always running late? Constantly losing things? If you’ve had these problems for as long as you can remember—and they’ve taken a toll on your work and personal life—you may have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). About 4 percent of adults ages 18 to 44 experience symptoms of ADHD, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
“As a child, you might have had difficulty in school—perhaps you felt overwhelmed and had trouble focusing,” says Steven Wruble, M.D., a psychiatrist and the executive medical director of the Venn Center in Ridgewood.
Whether you were diagnosed as a child and are still having symptoms or you simply suspect you may have this disorder, it’s possible to get your life back on track. Here’s what you need to know about adult ADHD and the latest treatments:
What are the symptoms?
There are three types of ADHD: the combined type with symptoms of both inattentiveness and hyperactivityimpulsivity; the predominantly inattentive type; and the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type. The inattentive type is most common in adults, according to Dr. Wruble. Symptoms include making careless mistakes at work, being disorganized, having trouble paying attention, being easily distracted and forgetful, losing things and failing to complete tasks. Symptoms of hyperactivity include feeling restless, talking excessively, fidgeting and interrupting others in conversation.
How does the disorder affect your life?
Adults with ADHD have trouble maintaining jobs, friendships and romantic relationships, says Jay Gordon, Ph.D., a psychologist at ADD Solutions of New Jersey in Freehold, Brick and Manahawkin.
“Your spouse may complain that you don’t listen and are quick to anger,” he says. “Your boss may say you have poor attention to detail, you miss deadlines and you get distracted during meetings.” (For a complete list of symptoms, contact Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder at chadd.org.)
How is it diagnosed?
The condition can be difficult to diagnose in adulthood because assessments are geared toward children, and symptoms may be subtle, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. A psychologist or psychiatrist will ask how long you’ve had the symptoms and try to rule out other causes. “Symptoms of ADHD can be triggered by stress, anxiety, a learning disability, medication or other neurological problems,” says Dr. Gordon. To receive a diagnosis, you’ll need to have five or more symptoms of either inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity—or both. The symptoms should have started before age 12, interfere with your social or work life and be present in two or more settings. If you have ADHD, you may also have another disorder, such as depression or anxiety.
How is ADHD treated?
“Medication has been shown to be one of the best treatments for ADHD,” says Dr. Gordon. Stimulants, which are taken as needed, such as before an important presentation at work, are usually the first line of treatment. They work by boosting levels of brain chemicals involved in memory and attention. Side effects include decreased appetite, sleep problems and mood swings. Patients who can’t tolerate stimulants can try Strattera (atomoxetine), a non-stimulant that is taken every day but has fewer side effects, according to Dr. Wruble.
What about nonmedical therapies?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is helpful. “I talk with patients about their behavior— what works and what doesn’t work,” says Ron Handelman, Ph.D., a psychologist at The Institute for Change in Montclair. “I teach them how to use calendars, clocks, timers and to-do lists.” One of his patients learned to take his medications at the right time, for example, by using a timer; and he learned how to keep his office organized by using color-coded files. “People with ADHD need to have external support to help them get things done,” Dr. Handelman notes. In addition, if you create a specific time frame for when you plan to accomplish something— picking up your child, finishing a task at work—you’re 70 to 90 percent more likely to do it, he says.
Computerized training programs, such as COGMED, can be very effective as well. People with ADHD struggle with working memory, the skill required to retain information in the short term to complete a task, says Dr. Wruble. People with a healthy working memory are able to store many pieces of information in their minds at one time. Those with a weak working memory can remember only a few at once. The COGMED program involves playing computer games that challenge your memory for 30 minutes per day. Practiced on a regular basis, it’s been shown to improve working memory in 80 percent of ADHD patients, says Dr. Wruble. “This technique helps to rewire the brain so you remember things better.”
Meditation and biofeedback may also be useful. “Relaxation therapies won’t cure ADHD, but they can be excellent tools for stress management if you’re experiencing anxiety and frustration as a result of the disorder,” says Dr. Gordon. “We all function best when we’re relaxed and eat well.”