Diagnosis

Better Late Than Never: Adults with ADHD

Why it’s important to seek an ADHD diagnosis and treatment — even in your 60s.

Why it's important to seek an ADHD diagnosis and treatment for adult adhd symptoms — even in your 60s.
Why it's important to seek an ADHD diagnosis and treatment — even in your 60s.

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.

[Why Do Adult ADHD Symptoms Go Undiagnosed?]

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).

[Self-Test: Could You Have Adult ADHD?]

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.

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  1. I honestly can’t explain how true this article is, my little brother exhibited early signs of having ADD, in talking around 3/4 and wasn’t able to get properly diagnosed and medicated until several years later. It was a long process for my mum and dad who really struggled to get him the help, at this time they were asked if they wanted any of their other children tested to see if they had ADD as well, I was around 11/12 by this stage and they said no there was no way I had it, I mean I had always not just done well in school but excelled and seemed to have no trouble with my memory as I could remember things from years ago. However over time I felt things get harder and harder I forgot what people had asked me to do which led to many fights with my parents. I would find myself zoning out in class then panicking when I realised I hadn’t been listening. Trying to keep myself organised was so hard and revising and trying to keep my attention on the page was more difficult with every year and set of exams, having to reread over and over because I hadn’t been taking the information in. Things reached breaking point in my lower 6th year during my AS I was doing maths economics and physics I had got good grades in them in my gcse but from the offset I really struggled. My parents got me tutors and seemed to thing I just wasn’t trying but I was I was trying so hard and nothing was getting better. Thinking back I can honestly say during this time I was severally depressed, my brother who was being medicated was thriving in school top of his year group whereas I had slipped to the very bottom. Everything was so easy for my friends who I used to be on or with but now I worked harder than any of them stayed up late to put in the extra work to still do worse than them. I spent a lot of time frustrated and in tears cause I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, I even self harmed once. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me I was positive I would fail the year and what would happen to my future then, I tired to tell my friends how bad it was but they thought I was over reacting, they only believed me when it came to results day and I got two E’s and U, it was honestly the worst day of my life I had never felt so ashamed or at a loss for where my life was going I had never even got a D before. My mum and dad however unknown to me had organised for me to see that doctor who had asked them years ago if they wanted any other children tested. I went without much hope and told them I know I’m going to past the test it’s just me there’s no reason for my brain being so stupid but they made me go anyway and we had to fill out a questionnaire before hand and I was surprise at some of the questions and why they were relevant but also how they applied to me. “Do you tend to blurt out something without thinking about how it will affect others” yes, “do you have organisational problems” yes “do you find yourself zoning out” yes and so on, of course there were some that didn’t apply as it was a questionnaire for both ADD and ADHD and I was not hyperactive. But when my result from the tests came we went to the doctor again and he spoke to me by myself asking my about my school experience I told him how hard things had got and he called my mum and dad back in. He told them she 100% has ADD as well, I couldn’t believe it but as he explained it all it all made sense and I couldn’t help but cry. ADD and ADHD can have different symptoms in girls and sometimes be much harder to spot he also said that because I had been trying so hard for so long I had manage to mask my difficulties until final it became to much this year and I just broke. He’d seen my school reports and looking at them all from P1 to lower sixth there was a slow decrease in my scores that he said would have been much more apparent if I hadn’t been working so hard to try to maintain them. My questionnaire and tests backed this up and I just couldn’t believe after all this time I had ADD too. I am now medicated, made the tough decision to resist the year without my friends and changed subjects to more coursework based subjects that didn’t relie on one exam on one day that my memory had to remember everything I’d learnt, now I’m in upper sixth finally I got 2 A’s last year and a C and I’m awaiting my final A level results next week with 5 university offers as well as an apprenticeship job offer with one of the leading accounting firms in the world. I know this was long but I really wanted to share my experience and hope it helps someone else, so please if you have one child diagonised test your others it doesn’t do any harm unless you don’t and leave it to get worse and also please if you have a daughter don’t dismiss that she could have ADD or ADHd because she doesn’t have the sterotypical symptoms. ADD and ADHD is not a sign of bad parenting and it didn’t mean I was stupid like I thought, my brain is just special, unique, it works differently and needs a little extra help at times to allow me to reach my full potential.

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