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ADHD: Its not just for kids anymore

Raymond Shred, PhD
Registered Psychologist

What do these people have in common -- Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, and Terry Bradshaw? How about these people -- Malcolm Forbes, Henry Ford, and Benjamin Franklin?

While there are a number of characteristics that the men in each group have in common, it may surprise you to know that they are all suspected of having ADHD. Jim Carrey may not surprise many people but Ben Franklin?

Many people are aware of the symptoms and some of the treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Most people tend to think that this condition only affects children. The stereotypical person with ADHD is an eight-year-old boy who is bouncing off the furniture, unable to sit still, and unable to pay attention for very long. However, ADHD also affects girls and older boys. And, only ½ of the symptoms are related to hyperactivity.

What happens when children with ADHD grow up?

Research evidence has shown that 70% of people properly diagnosed as children will still have the symptoms of ADHD as adults. So, why don’t we see adults bouncing off the furniture? Okay, well except Jim Carrey. Adults with ADHD often choose to live and work in environments where they can manage their attention difficulties and wear off some of their excess energy.

There are four core symptoms that characterize ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, Hyperactivity, and Distractibility. The pattern of symptoms for any one person tends to be consistent but how they are shown may change over time. A child who is unable to remain seated at school may become an adult who feels a deep sense of internal restlessness.

Someone with a problem with inattention may be unable to stay focused on one task for very long. They become easily bored especially when learning a new task or doing something that requires close attention. They may be perceived as unconcerned or lazy. They are often disorganized and have great difficulty completing tasks. Many projects are started but many are not seen through to conclusion. In contrast, they may be able to give effortless, automatic attention to something they really enjoy.

Impulsive individuals often act before they have considered the consequences. They may have frequent angry outbursts or may engage in more high risk activities than is usual for their age group. They may be impatient with others and have difficulty noticing non-verbal cues that other people use during their interactions. One result is that they may have difficulty making friends or keeping friends.

Distractibility is another of the core symptoms. Much of our modern world, whether in school, at work, or at home, has multiple sources of information and stimulation often operating at the same time. Focusing on one thing requires being able to tune out all the distractors. This can be difficult for anyone. Distractibility is one of the major reasons that people with ADHD are often underachievers in school. Their intelligence and other abilities are often much higher than their achievement would suggest.

The need to move is often present to a higher degree in people with ADHD. One person described the feeling of staying still to that of holding your breath – you can only hold it in so long and then you have to breathe.

Adults with ADHD (especially when undiagnosed) have difficulty staying in one job. They are frequently depressed and may experience distress about their lack of achievement. Because ADHD does not affect intelligence, there are many bright capable people pursuing their dreams and becoming extremely frustrated because they are not getting there. I have had clients who know what to do on the job. They may be able to teach others. But, when they are faced with completing the necessary tasks, they find themselves unable to complete them. They start but then are distracted by something else or they are daydreaming or, what was I writing about?

Not all problems with attention or distraction are a result of ADHD. However, if you find yourself (or a friend, partner, or relative) unable to finish chores, being disorganized, forgetful, or distracted almost all the time then it may be helpful to consult with a qualified professional to discuss your options. Feeling compelled to talk, difficulty waiting your turn, and excessive impatience may be appropriate sometimes. Or, they may be symptoms of ADHD.

It is important to note that many of the difficulties that people with ADHD have could also be symptoms of other disorders. For example, depressed people often have difficulty maintaining their attention. Anxious people may respond inappropriately in social situations. Sometimes a person may be diagnosed with one condition but may have another. Some of the symptoms of ADHD are similar to the manic symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. Because someone with ADHD may also be depressed, a treating professional needs to exercise caution in making a diagnosis so that appropriate treatment is given.

There are effective treatments available for ADHD. Treatment may include medication but other therapeutic treatments are effective as well. Psychotherapy may be helpful to improve one’s self concept that may have been affected by ongoing attention problems. There are biofeedback therapies that can be used to increase a person’s degree of self-control. Neurofeedback helps a person learn to control and change the way their brain works.

An exciting new treatment is the Cogmed Working Memory Training program.  It helps improve a person's working memory and reduces symptoms of impulsivity and inattention.  Please click on the link to read more about it. 

Some people with ADHD turn to personal or professional coaches to help them stay organized and on-task. A coach can help through regular contact and, for example, creating, maintaining, and reviewing "To do" lists and a person’s priorities. However, before treatment is implemented an accurate diagnosis should be made.   

Dr Raymond Shred
Registered Psychologist
Nanaimo, British Columbia
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