ADHD - not just for kids

It's a disorder almost everyone associates with hyper kids who can't sit still in a classroom, but for 90 percent of kids with ADHD, symptoms continue to cause problems throughout adulthood.

Although the name attention deficit disorder implies the condition is primarily a problem with paying attention, new research now suggests this is actually an executive function disorder with an unfortunate name.

Characterized by problems with distractibility, self regulation, impulse control, time management, concentration and inhibition, ADHD causes many difficulties for the roughly one in 25 adults who live with it.

Adults with ADHD have difficulty meeting their full potential in school or work settings, often have failed relationships, can be unreliable and have difficulty holding a job. In addition, adults with ADHD are at much higher risk for substance abuse and smoking than the general population and are twice as likely to die as a result of accidental causes.

Co-existing depression and anxiety are also quite common among those with ADHD and low self esteem can also be a problem due to lifelong negative feedback related to the condition.

Of course, common myths that the disorder doesn't exist or is the result of poor parenting, too much sugar, or somehow the person's fault don't help.

As with most conditions affecting the brain, there is still much to learn about ADHD, what causes it and exactly what is happening within the brain. However research has advanced considerably in recent years. Neuroimaging studies have proven the condition does exist and affects certain areas of the brain associated with executive function. Among those with ADHD, these areas are generally three to 10 percent smaller than those without the condition and they are also 10 to 25 percent less active than they should be.

Several specific genes have also been linked with the condition and some experts believe genetic testing as part of diagnosis is not too far in the future.

Along with the many difficulties associated with ADHD, those with the condition are often creative, energetic risk takers and can be quite successful if they find a career in an area suited to them. Several famous artists and athletes have recently come forward with ADHD including Michael Phelps and Canadian comedian Rick Green.

Even for those who manage success in their careers, the condition still tends to create chaos in other areas of life.

Some experts including Russell Barkley, author of Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, have come up with several indicators and adult symptoms they'd like to see included in the diagnostic manual for this condition. Some of these include: poor performance at work, frequent job changes, risky sexual behaviour, unsafe driving, difficulty managing money, problems in relationships, anti-social activities and a less healthy lifestyle.

Their hope is that if these indicators are included in the definition of ADHD, it would help adults experiencing the condition to get help when needed. As it stands, only seven percent of the adults living with ADHD are being treated and there is no official adult ADHD service in Canada.

If you are adult and you believe you might be experiencing ADHD, speak with your doctor about it and request referral to a specialist for an assessment. Treatment options are available and generally very effective.

 

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