Diagnosis

You Think You’ve Got Adult ADHD — What to Know

If you suspect that your lifelong struggles with memory, focus, or friendships may actually trace back to attention deficit disorder, this slideshow will guide you through the process of diagnosis, treatment, and moving on.

A woman with ADHD
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ADHD — After All These Years?

ADHD symptoms do not magically disappear with puberty. In fact, roughly two-thirds of all children with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD. But many still don’t know it. Because the medical community’s understanding of inattentive vs. hyperactive attention deficit, and the unique manifestation of symptoms in girls vs. boys, has improved so markedly in the last few decades, many adults are recognizing their ADHD symptoms for the first time in their 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s.

If you suspect that your lifelong struggles with memory, focus, or friendships may actually trace back to attention deficit disorder, this slideshow will guide you through the process of diagnosis, treatment, and moving on.

A woman has her arms full of binders and is on the phone. She may need to consider adult ADHD symptoms.
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Step One: Recognize Adult Symptoms

More often than not, the hyperactivity that we often associate with ADHD fades with childhood. As we age, symptoms tend to manifest as failure to pay attention to details, trouble organizing and completing big tasks, forgetfulness, talking before thinking or rudely interrupting, or feeling overwhelmed in crowds and stores. Too often, the shame that we feel at failing to manage these unidentified symptoms is diagnosed as anxiety or a mood disorder; the ADHD link is missed entirely.

If you suspect there is more at play, take this adult ADHD test.

A doctor works on determining adult ADHD symptoms to evaluate for ADHD.
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Step Two: Pursue a Diagnosis

ADHD is not a behavior disorder. It is a developmental impairment of the brain’s self-management system — a neurological condition that impacts executive functions. Finding a medical professional who understands this, and knows how to recognize symptoms in adults, is half the battle.

During an initial consultation, you should expect your doctor to review the ADHD criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V). Intelligence tests, broad-spectrum scales, computer tests, and even brain scans may follow to ensure an accurate diagnosis. To learn more about who’s qualified to diagnose ADHD and how it’s done, click here.

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

A woman reads more about symptoms of ADHD and related conditions to decide is she needs an adult ADHD test.
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Step Three: Rule Out Related Conditions

About 80 percent of individuals with ADHD are diagnosed with at least one other psychiatric condition at some time during their lives. A comorbid, or related, condition is a second separate condition that exists alongside ADHD, and needs to be treated in conjunction with attention deficit.

The most common ones for adults are mood disorders, anxiety, sleep disorders, OCD, and sensory processing disorder. In the cases where these conditions are secondary to ADHD — in other words, untreated symptoms of ADHD bring them on or exacerbate them — treating your attention deficit will make a world of difference. To learn more about overlapping symptoms and treatment options, click here.

A man covers his face in shame, not yet able to let go of ADHD shame and embrace the diagnosis.
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Step Four: Let Go Of the Shame

You’re 45-years-old and your doctor just diagnosed you with ADHD. Your first emotion is likely relief. Finally, you have an answer — an explanation for why so many things were so inexplicably difficult for so long. Then you're hit with regret. Why did you have to struggle for so long? How would life have been different if you’d been diagnosed as a child? And then there’s the lifetime of shame to overcome. After so many years of lost keys, missed appointments, and broken promises we learned to blame ourselves for being weak or undisciplined or just not good enough.

To learn more about breaking the shame cycle and moving on emotionally after a diagnosis, click here.

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Step Five: Choose Your Treatment Team

Psychiatrists. Psychologists. Neurologists. General care physicians. Nurse practitioners. And counselors. They can all diagnose and treat symptoms of ADHD, but different professionals specialize in different solutions — and cost different amounts. To pursue a treatment plan using medication, you need to see a doctor or psychiatrist. If your family life is strained, a psychiatrist or ADHD coach may be able to provide realistic solutions to daily problems. Treatment plans and professionals are not one-size-fits-all. To learn more about your options, click here.

Woman is reading her bottle of pills and taking ADHD treatment after learning more about it.
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Step Six: Learn About ADHD Medications

What’s the difference between a stimulant and a non-stimulant? How long do ADHD medications take to kick in? What are the most typical side effects? What drug interactions should I avoid? Will it make me feel like a zombie or dampen my creativity? How expensive are they?

Your questions about treating ADHD symptoms with medication probably go on and on. The good news is that after decades of testing and safe use, the medical community has answers for nearly all of them. Begin finding ADHD medication answers here.

[Free Resource: Your Ultimate Diagnosis Guide]

A meal of vegetables and salmon contributes to a healthy lifestyle — part of ADHD alternative treatments.
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Step Seven: Research Alternative Treatments

Daily food choices alone can neither cause nor cure ADHD symptoms. But studies do show that foods low in sugar and additives, and high in protein and vitamins can help with focus, attention, energy, and even memory. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve impulsivity and concentration. And iron, zinc, and magnesium — often naturally low in people with ADHD — can improve mental and physical health.

To learn more about the components of a holistic ADHD treatment plan that includes healthy food, vitamins, and supplements, click here.

A group of people with ADHD exercise as part of ADHD treatment plan.
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Step Eight: Work Out Your Brain

Physical activity stimulates the release of compounds your brain loves, promotes new brain-cell growth, and keeps the brain operating a peak efficiency. These are just a few of the reasons — besides the obvious appearance management ones — why exercise should be part of your ADHD treatment plan. But did you know that meditation and brain training have proven benefits as well? That yoga and mindfulness can help to keep symptoms in check on a daily basis? To learn more about non-pharmaceutical ways to boost your brain, click here.

A man downloads apps for adults with ADHD on his smart phone.
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Step Nine: Download These Apps

There’s a good reason why we panic when we can’t find our phones — they are invaluable for keeping us connected, scheduled, on time, and productive. Thanks to amazing apps like Listastic, which helps us remember not to forget, and Sleep Cycle, which helps us get the rest we need, adults with ADHD are regaining control, one click at a time. The ADDitude editors have researched and recommended a few dozen mobile apps for everything from managing money and time to harnessing creativity and building memory. You can find our favorite apps for adults with ADHD here.

[Personal Stories: "The Moment I Knew It Was ADHD"]

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