Adult ADHD – More Common Than You May Think

ADHDBy Susan Brown

Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a term given to a disorder of certain mechanisms in the central nervous system.  Initially thought of as a chronic childhood neurological condition, it is estimated that 4% of adults are affected while an unknown number remain undiagnosed.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that approximately 7.8% of children between the ages of 4 and 18 years of age are reported to have a history of ADHD.  Up to 70% of these children will carry some symptoms into adulthood.  

According to Russell Barkley, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University, adult ADHD is a complex disorder that manifests itself as the inability to self regulate and self motivate.  Lacking this self control and motivation, the management of  and ability to perform tasks is significantly impaired.  For adults with ADHD, life can seem chaotic, disorganized and difficult to navigate.

Although there is no single theory that explains the cause of adult ADHD, neurological studies show evidence that difficulties experienced are due to problems in the brain known as “executive functioning”.  These individuals have problems with impulsive thinking and decision making, planning, organizing, prioritizing and concentrating.

Many adults with this condition know that everyday tasks can be challenging, however, they may not recognize the reasons for their symptoms.  Diagnosis can be difficult as other conditions, such as mood or anxiety disorders, produce similar symptoms.  When a person has ADHD, inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior may continually disrupt their life.  The inability to control impulses can lead to angry outbursts, mood swings, unstable relationships and difficulty coping with stressful situations. 

Genetics appear to play a role. When one family member is affected by ADHD, chances are 25 – 35% that another will be as well.  Adults may recognize in their own children some of the symptoms they experienced as a child.  Signs and symptoms of adult ADHD are unique to each individual and may include:

  • Restlessness as opposed to hyperactivity.  Racing thoughts, chronic boredom, risk taking, excessive talking and attempting to do too many things at one time are all common signs.
  • Early history of symptoms. Childhood symptoms such as trouble paying attention in school, inability to sit still, struggling to focus on work and learning disabilities can continue to cause difficulties in adulthood. 
  • Procrastination.  Deadlines are often needed in order to focus on and complete tasks. Indecision, poor time management, difficulty multitasking and avoiding work that requires sustained attention are usual symptoms.   
  • Problems at work.  Adults with ADHD are more likely to change employers frequently, perform poorly at work and have less job satisfaction.  Executives and entrepreneurs often surround themselves with people who can focus on the details and finalize projects.
  • Thrill seeking.  There may be a tendency to crave excitement, engage in risky irresponsible behaviors or stimulating activities without regard to consequences.  It’s not unusual for adults with ADHD to have poor driving records and addictive tendencies, as it can be difficult to control impulsive behaviors.  Some may have a need for high stimulation in order to manage distractibility and to function effectively.
  • Cigarette smoking. Statistics show that 40% of people with ADHD smoke as opposed to 26% of the general population.  Nicotine may aid in concentration and help with focus. 
  • Emotional difficulties. Unstable relationships, inability to manage feelings and emotions, and behaving in socially inappropriate ways are common symptoms.  Fits of anger and frustration, irresponsibility and insensitivity to others is common.
  • Mental health problems. A number of other psychological or developmental conditions often accompany ADHD.  Symptoms associated with mood disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders can be exacerbated by ADHD. 
  • Inability to sustain focus. Minutia such as background noise or movement can cause distraction from the main event.  Getting and staying organized is very challenging.  Inattention to details, constantly misplacing items, difficulty initiating and finalizing tasks can all be signs of ADHD. 
  • Difficulty engaging in quiet activities.  Inability to settle down, quiet the mind, and enjoy  calm, leisurely interests is challenging at best. 

Neuropsychiatric evaluation including a battery of tests, self reported symptoms, childhood history and supporting evidence from family members are needed to confirm a diagnosis.  Tests often include assessment of overall intelligence and general knowledge as well as screening to rule out other mental health conditions.  Diagnosis is often received with a strong sense of relief and hope as a person realizes their difficulties are symptoms of their disorder and not a personal weakness or failure.  Prescribed treatments often include stimulant medications that boost and balance brain chemicals, psychosocial therapy, behavioral interventions, improved stress and time management skills or relaxation training.  Once diagnosed, people can begin to manage their symptoms and capitalize on their strengths. 

Self help, lifestyle changes and home remedies include:

  1. Exercise to work off excess energy and calm the body.  Getting enough sleep helps to support stress management and makes it easier to focus.  Eat a wide variety of nutritious food and limit sugar intake to help even out mood swings. 
  2. Work on better time management.  Set deadlines, make lists, dissect tasks and projects to make them more manageable. 
  3. Clear your workspace of clutter in order to focus on productivity.
  4. Encourage yourself.  Positive self talk can help you pay attention and remind you of what you have and can accomplish each day.
  5. Establish daily routines like putting your keys in the same place each day or keeping an appointment calendar to track deadlines and accomplishments. 
  6. Seek help and support from loved ones and professionals to keep your progress on track. 
  7. Prioritize.  Select the most important task and let others follow.  Allot yourself limited time for each task to avoid hyperfocusing. 
  8. Create a ten minute daily routine to attend to mundane tasks that tend to pile up.  Watch the clock and follow the orderly process each day to avoid missing steps. 
  9. Move around when necessary at appropriate times to prevent restlessness and fidgeting. 
  10. Listen actively and repeat instructions to be sure you understand correctly.  When you let family and coworkers know you are working to improve your communication skills, they will be more willing to accommodate and support your efforts.

No matter how out of control your life is or how frustrated you feel, you can improve your life as you learn strategies to help you get organized, manage your time efficiently, and develop communication and social skills.  Education, behavioral coaching, therapy, medication and understanding can help you lead a productive, creative, energetic enjoyable life. 

Supplements that may help improve some of the symptoms of adult ADHD are:

Nordic Naturals Arctic Omega Liquid Lemon is an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids in their naturally existing ratios of EPA and DHA, the two main components of Omega-3 from fish oil.  Research shows these essential fatty acids support healthy brain function, promote positive mood and well being, support focus, memory, learning ability and attention span. 

Ortho Molecular Reacted Cal-Mag  has a calming effect, supports many functions of the body and is essential for brain health.  Magnesium assists in modulating calcium levels. 

Metabolic Maintenance GABA-750  Popularly known as the body’s natural tranquilizer, Gamma Aminobutyric Acid is an amino acid derivative that functions as a major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system. Thought to contribute to normal mood, GABA has anti-stress, anti-anxiety, calming and relaxing effects without addictive qualities.

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