We all have times when it’s hard to concentrate, when we fall behind in our work, lose our keys, run late. But for adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), these things continue to happen all the time. They may have trouble concentrating, paying attention, remembering what someone just said or what they were doing a moment ago. They find it hard to leave home on time. At work, they have performance issues. Relationships are strained and, sometimes, broken. In short, they lead chaotic lives.
Adult ADHD is more common than once thought. Experts used to believe that children outgrew it, but now we know that about 30 percent of children with attention deficit disorders continue to struggle with the symptoms into adulthood. Many adults had it as children but were never diagnosed. It often runs in families, and sometimes parents figure out that they have the disorder only after a son or daughter is diagnosed. In total, between 3 and 6 percent of adults have ADHD, and three-quarters of them don’t even know it. In adults, the condition tends more toward the inattention side than the hyperactivity side, but there is also often underlying depression or anxiety.
The key to effective treatment is a wellness approach, which may include behavioral therapy and a renewed emphasis on healthy habits. Medications, either stimulant or non-stimulant, are more effective when combined with therapy — specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapeutic approach that focuses on how we think, how we frame our responses to problems, and how our thoughts affect our behavior. CBT helps individuals remove cognitive obstacles to achieving their goals. With these treatments combined, “it’s amazing how well patients do,” says Raul Seballos, MD, vice chair of preventive medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, who has treated more than 250 adults with ADHD. “You see a totally different person, one who is getting things done.”
Time management skills, nutrition, exercise, mindful meditation, good sleep habits, and stress management are also part of the solution. Whereas adult ADHD, like childhood ADHD, is often treated with medication, “pills won’t substitute for skills,” says Dr. Seballos. Even if you don’t have adult ADHD, these techniques can help you focus and be more successful in your life.