Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is more often than not misunderstood by both doctors and the public. Historically, it was associated with ‘naughty’ children who couldn’t sit still and blamed on bad parenting. But research has dispelled this myth and shed light on this complex neurological condition, which causes hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Awareness in adult sufferers – who in the majority of cases have remained undiagnosed since childhood – has remained limited, however. It is estimated that one million South Africans aged between 20 and 50 are affected by adult ADHD.
With a lack of knowledge surrounding diagnosis in adults, as well as treatment thereof, the prevalence of adult ADHD could be far greater than we think. We speak to the experts to find out more about adult ADHD and its symptoms…
It’s no longer known as a behavioural disorder
ADHD is now classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder which means parts of the brain didn’t develop properly. It is ‘characterised by cognitive impairment’, according to child and adolescent psychotherapist, Dr Tony Lloyd. This means individuals struggle to focus, are easily distracted, and can have impulsive thoughts and emotions.
So what’s causing the rise of adult ADHD?
‘ADHD is highly hereditary,’ explains Dr Lloyd. ‘We’re now getting better at diagnosing ADHD too – in the past, individuals, particularly women, were mislabelled as daydreamers, chatterboxes or scatty, masking undiagnosed ADHD,’ explains nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire. So these adults, who are only now being diagnosed, are adding to the rising numbers. ‘There’s also less stigma, a greater understanding of ADHD, and more public figures speaking out about their condition,’ adds Dr Lloyd.
Spotting the ADHD symptoms:
Signs can include:
- Short attention span
- Struggling to concentrate
Even though ADHD is one of the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorders, it often remains undiagnosed until later in life. Adult symptoms may also differ from children – as the brain reaches full maturity – but the impact of ADHD can be just as significant.
Hyperactivity may lessen, and choosing a career that reflects how your brain works, can help. ‘However, inattentiveness can be exacerbated as adult life pressures increase,’ says Dr Derbyshire. Struggling to concentrate can also trigger frustration, affecting your relationships and your work.
To further complicate matters, some studies show that 70% of adults with ADHD will have at least one other co-existing mental health disorder, such as bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, or a substance abuse issue. What’s more, if it’s left untreated, ADHD can cause problems like anxiety and depression.
What can help?
Daily exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep, and reducing stress can all help. Drugs that artificially boost levels of brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, plus antidepressants, have been used for decades. And there’s been a ‘growing interest in the role of omega-3 fatty acids to help manage ADHD symptoms’, says Dr Derbyshire.
Awareness is also key. ‘Current attitudes are changing, but more needs to be done,’ says Dr Lloyd. He also thinks an early diagnosis is vital. ‘Undiagnosed, untreated ADHD can have a significant impact on health, well-being, employability, and even life chances,’ he adds.