Better Late Than Never: Adults with ADHD
Why it’s important to seek an ADHD diagnosis and treatment — even in your 60s.
Reviewed on November 7, 2017
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is being diagnosed in adults in their 20s, 30s, or, in some cases, in grandparents who are in their mid-60s.
Many adults with ADHD say that they weren’t even aware of the disorder until they had a child who was diagnosed. After seeing ADHD in their children, these undiagnosed adults gradually realized that they had the same signs and symptoms. Why would it be important to diagnose someone has made it through school, has a job, and has somehow managed to hang around the planet for more than a quarter of a century?
Can ADHD develop in adults?
ADHD is not some monolithic diagnosis that affects all people the same way. Some people with ADHD have learning disorders, some do not. Some ADHD people are extremely intelligent, others have average or even below average IQ. Some come from supportive homes, others come from dysfunctional families and had to raise themselves. All of these factors affect the impact of ADHD on the life of the individual. The child genius who has supportive parents will be better able to compensate for his or her ADHD.
Many adults with ADHD have learned to hide their cluttered desks behind closed office doors; they learn to look attentive even when they have no idea what has just been said. These and other survival skills help to cloak their ADHD.
But, eventually, even the child genius finds that coping skills only go so far. Frustration becomes more apparent as the gap between ability and actual performance grows. After years of being able to get by on innate intelligence and other abilities, these undiagnosed adults with ADHD realize that there is nothing left in their bag of tricks.
What does the research show?
Research on adults with ADHD illustrates the scope of the problem. Twenty-five percent of ADHD participants in the study did not graduate from high school versus 1% of the participants who did not have ADHD.
On a positive note, half of the ADHD students who did not graduate were able to obtain a General Education Diploma by taking the GED test. Only 15% of ADHD participants had completed a bachelor’s degree compared to more than half of the Non-ADHD group having completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. Other studies report finding that as few as 5% of ADHD people who attend college actually obtain a degree (American Journal of Psychiatry, April, 1998).
Three percent of the adults in the ADHD group were enrolled in graduate school or had completed a graduate degree, compared to sixteen percent of those in the Non-ADHD group were either enrolled or had completed a graduate degree program when the follow up survey was conducted.
Why should you seek treatment?
Education and career goals are not the only reasons why these patients seek treatment. The adult with ADHD begins to feel unable to cope, as the responsibilities of marriage, parenting, mortgage payments and more begin to pile on. This frustration may lead to self-medication with illicit drugs or alcohol, both of which present even more problems of their own. Jobs suffer and relationships perish. An overall sense of failure begins to take over.
Breaking this cycle of failure and frustration is the primary goal of treatment for the adult with ADHD.