Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition commonly associated with children who can’t sit still, but it’s a genuine condition that can affect both children and adults. While there is some evidence that it can be overdiagnosed in children, just under 10 percent of children and over eight million American adults live with ADHD today.
While the average age of diagnosis is still very young (around seven years old), roughly 60 percent of people diagnosed will still have it as an adult. For this article, we’ll be focusing on what the condition is, adults living with ADHD, and what they can expect with a diagnosis.
What is ADHD?
At its core, ADHD is a mental health disorder with a combination of symptoms from difficulty focusing to hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Generally, ADHD symptoms can be split into two categories: issues with attention and focus and issues with hyperactivity and impulse control. Sometimes, hyperactivity and impulse control are separate categories.
Over time, these symptoms may result in trouble in school or workplace settings, mental health issues like depression and poor self-esteem, or relationship issues.
The attention-related symptoms may manifest as losing focus during a long task, forgetfulness, absentmindedness, being easily distracted, or struggling to follow instructions and pay attention to detail. Hyperactivity symptoms may be experienced with fidgeting, extreme restlessness, difficulty sitting still for long periods of time, excessive talking, interrupting, or trouble engaging in quiet leisure activities. Over time, these symptoms may result in trouble in school or workplace settings, mental health issues like depression and poor self-esteem, or relationship issues.
ADHD is often comorbid with a number of other mental health disorders, meaning that people with ADHD may also have them, but that doesn’t mean they always coexist. The most common comorbidities are mood and anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, and personality disorders. These can include depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), or other learning or language disorders.
Unfortunately, we’re not certain what causes or increases one’s risk of developing ADHD, though genetics appear have a significant role. Other than that, studies are ongoing with the possible causes being anything from brain injuries to environmental exposures during pregnancy and young age.
What Does ADHD Look Like in Adults?
While some refer to ADHD and adult ADHD separately, it’s the same condition that evolves with age. Depending on the person, the symptoms may change differently, but in most cases, the attention symptoms remain the most apparent. This may be seen as daydreaming, making careless mistakes, a lack of attention to detail, and struggling at work.
In some cases, ADHD symptoms become less obvious as someone grows older, often leading it to be underdiagnosed in seniors. The symptoms may present as a toned-down form of hyperactivity, so instead of running, jumping, climbing, or frantic movement, fidgeting or restlessness after periods of stillness may occur. Those with ADHD may grow frustrated easily or have a lower impulse control, engaging in riskier behaviors.
Since these symptoms are all behaviors that can appear in someone without ADHD, it can be difficult to diagnose. It can be even more difficult since some of the common symptoms can be written off as “senior moments.” An adult would need to fit at least five symptoms of ADHD as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Symptoms can shift over time, especially from childhood to adulthood, further exacerbating the difficulty of diagnosis.
Are There Treatment Options?
If you are diagnosed with ADHD, your main form of treatment will be prescription medications. The most common medications prescribed are stimulants (the most commonly prescribed), nonstimulants, and antidepressants, which are all used to even out the chemicals in your brain and help lessen the symptoms you experience. It may take a bit to figure out the drug mix that works best for you and for them to fully kick in. At that stage, patience is important.
For example, you may learn greater impulse control or anger-relief strategies.
Counseling is also becoming a popular treatment solution for ADHD. It can be used to teach you strategies to deal with the symptoms so they don’t affect your life as severely. For example, you may learn greater impulse control or anger-relief strategies. Counseling may also help you work on your ability to focus or develop time management skills. As a non-drug option, therapy can be very helpful.
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ADHD may be more widely associated with children, but we can’t ignore the millions of adults that are also diagnosed with the condition. Since some of the more obvious symptoms become less obvious with age, it’s already difficult to get adults ADHD help. If you think you may be living with adult ADHD, speak to your doctor to see if you fit the criteria.