Is your life often chaotic because you just can’t focus or stay organized? Have relationship problems because you can’t complete tasks? Forget important things or easily become upset over minor things? It’s possible you have attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is surprisingly common in adults, according to psychiatrist and sleep specialist Alex Dimitriu, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in Menlo, CA.
Often unrecognized in adults, ADHD affects about 4 percent of adults over the age of 18 worldwide, though many have lived with its symptoms and effects since childhood without identifying the source of the problem.
But getting an ADHD diagnosis as an adult, while startling, can also be liberating in many ways and help those affected take steps to help themselves, says Dr. Dimitriu. Symptoms include making careless mistakes, having difficulty sustaining attention, struggling to follow directions, being easily distractible and frequently losing things. Adults affected by the condition’s hyperactivity component may feel extreme restlessness or like they’re “driven by a motor,” and they may also talk excessively.
“I often see adult ADHD patients who had no idea that their inconsistent performance in academics or their career, relationship struggles, and chronic stress about failing to accomplish goals was actually due to ADHD,” he explains. “There’s also a pervasive stigma about those with ADHD, saying they’re lazy or crazy. It’s just not true, and there’s help available.”
It is important to recognize that sleep deprivation and insomnia can lead to symptoms of ADHD. “The brain needs sleep to organize and consolidate memories, and to clean up house for new learning to occur. All of my patients with ADHD also get screened for sleep quality and sleep apnea,” Dr. Dimitriu adds.
How ADHD is diagnosed in adults
Since no single test can diagnose ADHD – in children or adults – the process of confirming ADHD’s presence requires several steps. First, the evaluation should be done by a licensed mental health professional or physician, including a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, or family doctor.
The assessment involves logging the patients’ complete physical and psychiatric history as well as screening to rule out other disorders that could provoke ADHD-like symptoms, such as mood disorders, seizures, sleep disorders, alcohol or substance abuse, or others.
ADHD-specific tests include various rating scales and psychological tests to collect and evaluate information about symptoms.
“All thorough evaluations for adult ADHD should also involve an extensive interview with the patient and often your significant other, since those who spend a lot of time with you are often more aware of your behaviors and struggles than even you are,” Dr. Dimitriu said.
Tips on treatment options
Fortunately, adults diagnosed with ADHD have many possible treatment options to pursue, depending on the severity of their symptoms and their own comfort level. Possible treatments include:
· Stimulant medications or other medications that don’t contain stimulants
· Psychological counseling, which includes psychotherapy to learn to reduce impulsive behaviour, improve problem-solving skills and self-esteem, and ways to enhance relationships.
· Education about the disorder as well as helpful skills to cope with it.
· Lifestyle and home changes, including keeping lists of tasks, keeping an appointment book, carrying a notebook to jot ideas or things to remember, and a filing system to organize information.
“Adults who confront an ADHD diagnosis after dealing with symptoms for so many years are typically grateful for options to help ease the effect the condition has on their day-to-day lives,” Dr. Dimitriu says. “They can also combine various treatments and approaches to optimize their results. It’s always nice to see adults with ADHD find their way past their prior difficulties by getting a proper diagnosis and treatment.”
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