June 27, 2016

By Luna Greenstein


When you hear of people living with ADHD, is your first thought of a child struggling to sit still in a classroom? Probably. But while hyperactivity usually diminishes, inattentiveness and impulsiveness will likely persist into adulthood. It’s a common misconception that ADHD is only a childhood condition and does not affect individuals after adolescence.

In fact, adults are sometimes misdiagnosed or undiagnosed because many physicians are not properly trained to identify the disorder in adults, according to Medical Daily: “About 25 percent of the time, when a child has ADHD, there’s a parent that has ADHD. We realize this is a weakness in our service delivery models, because often clinicians focus on just treating the child and ignore the fact that another family member has ADHD,” said Mark Stein, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of Chicago-Illinois.

Studies suggest that about 4 percent of adults are significantly affected by the symptoms of ADHD, according to Karen Weintraub, co-author of Fast Minds: How to Thrive if You Have ADHD. These individuals may have difficulty controlling what they pay attention to. For them to focus on anything uninteresting may take a large amount of effort. Poor attention can also lead to reduced memory encoding and memory problems. Adults with ADHD may also have trouble staying organized and may make impulsive decisions.

Heightened Risk for Other Problems

According to Weintraub, research suggests that people living with ADHD are more likely to have sleep problems, to eat impulsively and not to exercise routinely.

Having ADHD can lead to other issues, according to a 33-year follow-up study conducted on ADHD. The study was led by Rachel Klein, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. The abstract of the study states that, while the research doesn’t tell the whole story, participants living with ADHD tended to complete less schooling, hold lower-ranking occupations and have poorer self-esteem and social skills.

Another study measured the long-term outcomes of individuals living with ADHD in the following categories: academic, antisocial behavior, driving, non-medicinal drug use/addictive behavior, obesity, occupation, services use, self-esteem and social function. The results showed that people with ADHD had poorer long-term outcomes in all categories.

It is also important to recognize that many people function at a high level with ADHD. These individuals often master coping strategies and maximize their capacity. ADHD does confer risks as noted in these studies and developing coping tools and undergoing treatment is shown minimize these potential risks.

Treatment Methods For ADHD

According to Fast Minds: How to Thrive if You Have ADHD, adults with ADHD can take the following steps to help manage symptoms:

  1. Taking medication. Medication can be important and helpful for someone with ADHD, but shouldn’t stand alone in a treatment plan. Understanding the risks, uses and benefits of all medications for ADHD is essential.
  2. Getting organized. Being organized can help someone with ADHD maintain a healthy routine and lifestyle. An organizational or life coach may be key in achieving this.
  3. Learning to make decisions thoughtfully rather than impulsively. Before making an important decision, think through the positive and negative consequences of the choice. A therapist or supportive relationship can help improve decision-making.
  4. Finding emotional support. Many people living with ADHD have faced negative messages when their symtoms caused their actions to fall short of other people’s expectations. Emotional support is an important step in counteracting harmful experiences.
  5. Maintaining a wellness routine. Such routines include a healthy diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep.
  6. Having a solid calendar and reminder system. This can be essential when dealing with attention issues so as to not forget important occasions or deadlines.

Research has also pointed to Metacognitive therapy as a potential solution for people living with ADHD. Such therapy may help people to change how they think and understand their thinking style. A major part of this therapy is discussing how symptoms are caused and maintained and finding strategies for managing those symptoms. According to this study that aimed to measure the success of metacognitive therapy, 42 percent of participants improved on organization and ability to complete tasks, compared to only 12 percent who completed supportive therapy.

It is estimated that only 10 percent of adults who meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD are actually diagnosed. This mental health condition needs to be viewed as a lifelong disorder and not something exclusive to youth and young adults alone.

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