ADHD Diagnosis in Adults

Don’t Let Them Talk You Out of Your ADHD

Doctors are often hesitant when diagnosing ADHD in adults. Use these tips to ensure that your condition isn’t overlooked.

Older woman with ADHD staring into distance with fist under chin outside
Older woman with ADHD staring into distance with fist under chin outside

A friend of mine is convinced she has ADHD. She has classic symptoms that she can trace back to early childhood. Recently, she visited her doctor (again) only to hear (again) that she doesn’t meet the DSM-V standards for an ADHD diagnosis. Her doctor told her that, at her age, it isn’t worth getting diagnosed with ADHD anyway, since it is too late to do anything about it.

Those are fightin’ words, my friend. No one’s mental health deserves to be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a figurative pat on the head. I thought that we left medical condescension back in the 1970s and ‘80s. Maybe not.

My hunch is that the doctor in question is perfectly competent in other arenas. But adult ADHD, especially in the over-40 crowd, is still something of a mystery. And medical mysteries (translate: those that don’t have enough peer-reviewed published research) are best left alone. Better to fall back on tried-and-true diagnoses like depression. I understand; doctors don’t want to risk diagnostic errors.

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

But this attitude is a dramatic disservice to the midlife and older population. As many as 80 percent of ADHD adults are still undiagnosed; a substantial proportion of those still absent-mindedly bumping into furniture are over age 40. They need to understand that their chronic tardiness or inability of earn a living wage is not a character flaw. They need to have the option of treatment for their ADHD, whether they have 30 years or 30 months to live. No one can or should be allowed to decide whether treatment should be given or withheld based on longevity (an unpredictable target at best).

Certainly, normal aging can look a lot like ADHD. Memory lapses, mental confusion, and distractibility are as much a part of growing older as reading glasses. Layered onto an ADHD brain that already struggles with those challenges, however, normal aging escalates to a higher plateau. I believe that if diagnosis and treatment can ease a single anxious mind, calm one buzzy brain, or relieve one guilt-ridden psyche, it’s worth the effort. Appropriate ADHD treatment can transform a life at any age.

We need to take a stand for accurate and thorough diagnoses without age bias. We can and should ditch doctors who are unwilling to acknowledge not only ADHD after age 40, but the coexisting conditions that further complicate diagnosis. We should expect that our medical professional is a) already current in his or her training about adult ADHD or b) willing to dive into the mountain of data that now exists. Granted, there is a scarcity of research about the intersection of age and ADHD, but for a medical professional to pay attention to the possibilities is a step in the right direction.

I know that this post preaches to the choir of ADHD-savvy docs who peruse the pages of ADDitude magazine. They know their stuff. Find one of them near you, secure in the knowledge that their assessments are based on years of experience with adult ADHD.

[Free Download: Who Can Treat ADHD?]

If there’s no one in your area who fits that criterion, travel to an area where there is one. Seriously, it’s that important. You can get diagnosed in another state or province and be treated back home. Just ask that the testing records be forwarded to your local doctor or psychologist.

Those of us who fight wrinkles as well as deadlines already have spent too many years in mental disarray. It’s time for the medical profession to take our complaints seriously, sort out the messy symptoms, and then treat our ADHD with expediency.

[The Downside of Undiagnosed Adult ADHD]