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Adult ADHD

ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is usually diagnosed during childhood, and often persists into adulthood.

Experts don’t know if ADHD can occur in adults who didn't seem to have the condition as children.

More than two-thirds of children with ADHD will still have symptoms as teenagers. A further two thirds of these teenagers will still have problems as adults.

One Dutch study that suggested as many as 3% of over 60s may have ADHD.

The ADHD charity ADDISS says many older adults may have undiagnosed ADHD.

ADHD in adults

Adults with ADHD may have difficulty following directions, remembering information, concentrating, organising tasks or completing work within time limits. If these difficulties are not managed appropriately, they can cause associated behavioural, emotional, social, vocational and academic problems.

Common behaviour and problems of adult ADHD

Problems ADHD can cause for adults include:

  • Working memory is poor
  • Organisational skills are poor
  • Time management is poor
  • Emotional over-arousal - not just happy or sad - but really happy or really sad
  • Risk of depression
  • Debt problems through poor money management
  • Gambling, through a need for stimulation
  • Drug abuse and alcohol abuse
  • Failed relationships and marriages
  • Unemployment, changing jobs often, poor work performance

How is adult ADHD diagnosed?

Adults who have not been assessed when they were younger would also be assessed by a psychiatrist from the local NHS mental health team, usually following a referral from a GP.

The aim of the assessment is to identify ADHD problems and the effect symptoms like being over-active and impulsive are having on the person's life.

Treating ADHD in adults

If ADHD is diagnosed, the psychiatrist will discuss treatment options, including medication and psychotherapy or a combination of the two.

Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT for ADHD is a therapy that tries to help a person find ways to accomplish important tasks and organise themselves better. Attempts may be made to help a person feel better about themselves by reducing anxiety and the effect of any self-critical thoughts.

There are few medications licensed for ADHD in adults and not much research is available into how well they work. A psychiatrist can still prescribe medications 'off licence' if he or she thinks the medication will help.

Medications may be stimulants, such as methylphenydate and dexamphetamine. There's evidence these can be effective quickly but the benefits wear off during the night.

Because these drugs can be abused, they are known as 'controlled' drugs.

Side-effects can include weight loss and psychosis.

A non-stimulant treatment is atomoxetine which can take some weeks to become effective.

Side-effects can include stomach cramps, diarrhoea and thinking about self-harm.

Self-help for adults with ADHD

The Royal College of Psychiatrists says there are things adults with ADHD can do to help themselves.

These include

  • Thinking about how ADHD affects the person and those around them and talking to them about it
  • Finding out more about the condition, including using credible online resources or self-help groups
  • Finding out what may make symptoms of ADHD worse or better
  • Finding ways to make life easier, such as making lists, reminders and setting achievable goals
  • Asking for allowances to be made at work and seeking professional help if distressed or depressed.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 15, 2017

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