Updated 14 July 2017

Adult ADHD: an overlooked problem

Doctors are realising that ADHD doesn't always disappear when children enter puberty - it is a persistent problem that can last a lifetime.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most publicised, and controversial, childhood disorders.

Now, doctors are realising that ADHD doesn't always disappear when children enter puberty - it is a persistent problem that can last a lifetime, although many adults don't realise they may be struggling with the condition.

"ADHD tends to be chronic," said Andrea Chronis, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Maryland. "Most people diagnosed in childhood continue to have problems in adolescence and adulthood. About 60 percent of individuals who have problems as children continue to have problems in adulthood."

As a result, many psychologists are urging their colleagues to take a closer look at the parents of hyperactive and inattentive kids to see if Mom and Dad have similar symptoms. Often adults who have ADHD are diagnosed when they find out their children have the condition.

Symptoms continue into adulthood
It's also known that symptoms continue into adulthood for more than 50 percent of children with ADHD, but few adults are identified or get appropriate treatment.

ADHD is estimated to affect as many as seven percent of children, as well as two percent to four percent adults.

But symptoms of ADHD often differ between the two age groups, Chronis said. "The adults aren't necessarily bouncing off the walls," she said. "But we see a lot of impulsive behaviours - frivolous spending, impulsive driving." And difficulty focusing.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, common behaviours and problems of adult ADHD can include chronic lateness and forgetfulness; anxiety; low self-esteem; employment problems; difficulty controlling anger; substance abuse or addiction; poor organisation skills; procrastination; difficulty concentrating when reading; and mood swings and depression.

Parents of ADHD kids tested
The causes of the disorder remain unclear, but Chronis suspects genetics play a role. In a study last year, she and her colleagues found that parents of children with ADHD were 24 times more likely to show symptoms of the disorder themselves. That, in turn, can make it a challenge for them to help their own children cope with their ADHD.

"The parent might be forgetful in terms of taking the child to their doctor's appointment, and they may forget to administer the child's medication," Chronis said. Parents may also be unable to provide "structure and organisation" for their kids.

Just as in children, stimulant drugs are a common treatment for ADHD in adults. It might seem counterintuitive to prescribe a stimulant to someone who's already overactive. In fact, the drugs work by boosting a person's ability to focus, explained William Frankenberger, professor of psychology and director of the Human Development Center at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire.

"They're performance enhancers," Frankenberger said. "You can do a boring task for a longer period of time and not make mistakes. You're more able to focus."

The drug debate continues
If the diagnosis is mild to moderate ADHD, stimulant medications such as methylphenidate or dextroamphetamine are often initially prescribed as part of the treatment plan. These drugs stimulate the parts of the brain responsible for organisation and management, which have been shown to be less active in individuals with ADHD. They're effective in 70 percent to 80 percent of patients, Cleveland Clinic researchers report. The drugs may also improve ability to pay attention, concentrate and control impulses.

But some studies suggest the drugs only work in the short term in adults, Frankenberger said.

Alternatives to drugs include behavioural therapy, he said. "There are strategies people can learn to help themselves maintain their focus and be more efficient learners," Frankenberger said. While they require training and practice, "they can be very effective."

Individual counselling and support groups also may help, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. – (HealthDayNews, October 2004)

Read more:
ADHD in adults? Sorry, say that again, I wasn't listening.
Attention disorder not just for kids


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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