Most of us typically associate attention deficit disorder (ADHD) as a childhood problem. However between 30 and 70 percent of people who meet the criteria for ADHD in childhood continue to struggle with the symptoms into adulthood.
The first research studies on adult attention deficit disorder were done in the late 1970’s. Individuals were retrospectively diagnosed in their childhood through assessment by interview. As a result, standardized criteria were created to help mental health professionals diagnose ADHD in adults, called the Utah Criteria. These, and other newer tools such as the Conners Rating Scale and the Brown Attention Deficit Disorder Scale, combine data on personal history and current symptoms.
ADHD Diagnosis in Adults
Quite often, adults with symptoms consistent with ADHD do not believe they have this condition- it may take a specific event to trigger their suspicions. For example if their child is being assessed for or has been diagnosed with ADHD, or if they seek out medical attention for other problems such as anxiety, depression or addiction. While on staff at Kaiser Permanente hospital, I served in the adult ADHD clinic for diagnosis and treatment, and it was quite common for people to spend years feeling like something was ‘different’ but never understanding why they struggled with various aspects of their life.
Take the adult ADHD screening quiz now to find out if you may have this disorder and should seek professional help.
Diagnostic criteria. Individuals must have symptoms that coincide with ADHD beginning in childhood and are ongoing up to the present. These may include distractibility, impulsivity and restlessness. Diagnosis is best undertaken by an expert in adult ADHD. It will include taking a personal history and often involve gathering information from one or more of the individual’s close relatives, friends or colleagues. Your specialist should also check for other undiagnosed conditions (such as learning disabilities, anxiety, or affective disorders). A physical examination is also an important part of understanding other medical issues that might be contributing to the presence of symptoms.
Treatment. Medical treatment for adult ADHD can be similar to that for children — many of the same stimulant drugs can be of benefit, including the newer drug Strattera (atomoxetine).
Other common drugs used for treating adults with ADHD are the antidepressants, either alongside or instead of stimulants. Antidepressants which target the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine are the most effective. These include the older form of antidepressant known as the tricyclics. In addition, the newer antidepressant drug Venlafaxine (Effexor) may be helpful. The antidepressant Bupropion (Wellbutrin) has been found useful in trials of adult ADHD, and may also help reduce nicotine cravings.
Drug treatment alone is not enough to manage this life long problem. Adults with ADHD can benefit from psychotherapy aimed at managing the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of this disorder. Therapy can also help people see the benefit of having the high energy levels, spontaneity and enthusiasm typical of ADHD, and use these characteristics to their advantage. Therapy should also include developing personalized techniques that address problems directly affected by the disorder, such as relationships, work life, and self care. Organizational plans should include simple calendars, charts, to-do lists, notes, and designated locations for everyday items such as keys, wallets, glasses, etc. Computer/online systems can help reduce the potential confusion of bills and other vital documents and correspondence. Such routines will give a sense of order and achievement.
With proper assessment and treatment, adults with ADHD can live happy and fulfilling lives free of chaos and disorder. For more information on this disorder visit http://www.psychcentral.com