You fidget during meetings and can’t quite seem to wrap up that project that’s been sitting on your desk. Your family says you just “don’t listen,” and you have a reputation for being rash.
While everyone has attention lapses now and then, you may wonder if there is a deeper issue. For some adults, this behavior may be symptomatic of an underlying cause: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Many people think of ADHD as a brain disorder that affects kids; however, more than four percent of adults suffer from ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
“Adults with ADHD, when compared to those without, have a much more difficult time over the course of life,” says Dr. Joel Young, medical director at the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and an associate professor of psychiatry at Wayne State University School of Medicine.
They’re more likely to cycle through multiple jobs, to have lower educational achievement and lower incomes, and to have more tempestuous interpersonal relationships, Dr. Young continued. Research shows patients with untreated ADHD are even more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes.
In other words, Dr. Young says, ADHD can cause a lot of damage “in very real and painful ways.”
Understanding the symptoms of ADHD
The core symptoms of adult ADHD – inattention, distractibility, impulsivity and hyperactivity – lie on a continuum. While any member of the general population might exhibit these traits, they are more pronounced in people with ADHD. Research shows more than 90 percent of adults with ADHD have attention issues.
Diagnosing ADHD in adults, however, can be complicated. Their symptoms – including procrastination and disorganization – are often more subtle than those exhibited by children. Many adults assume their symptoms are attributable to something else, such as the stress of daily life. If they seek help, other behaviors and conditions – including depression, anxiety, substance use, thyroid problems and sleep apnea – can mask the underlying cause of their problems.
In fact, many adults with ADHD, which often runs in families, only realize they suffer from the condition when a family member is diagnosed with it.
“That’s often the ‘ah-ha’ moment for them,” Dr. Young says.
For all the challenges it presents, there are effective tools for identifying and addressing ADHD.
The World Health Organization’s six-question adult ADHD self-assessment is a good starting point:
- How often do you have trouble wrapping up the final details of a project, once the challenging parts have been done?
- How often do you have difficulty getting things in order when a task requires organization?
- How often do you have problems remembering appointments or obligations?
- When you have a task that requires a lot of thought, how often do you delay getting started?
- How often do you fidget or squirm with your hands or feet when you have to sit down for a long time?
- How often do you feel overly active and compelled to do things, like you were driven by a motor?
If, after taking the assessment, you suspect you have ADHD, see your healthcare provider for a more in-depth evaluation. If you are diagnosed with ADHD, your doctor should talk to you about treatment options. They may order the GeneSight test, a simple cheek swab test, to help them identify the medication and dosage that may be most effective for you.
“Treatment works,” Dr. Young says. “There is hope. It’s a treatable condition.”