When hearing the term attention deficit disorder (ADD), most people immediately think about kids who can’t stay on task and disrupt the classroom who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adults can also struggle with ADD, without the hyperactivity feature, but may have acquired various coping mechanisms through life to help manage the disorder. Some adults with ADD had the disorder in childhood, but others may have developed the symptoms of ADD in adulthood.
ADD is a neurological disorder that in an adult manifests with problems related to the region of the brain responsible for executive functions. These executive functions include decision-making, focus, concentration, impulse control, memory, and emotion regulation. ADD can cause disruption in careers, relationships, and family life due to the difficulties experienced by the impaired executive functions.
Signs of Adult ADD
For adults with non-hyperactive ADD, there can be many challenges. Generally, these individuals struggle throughout the day to stay on task and follow the task through to completion. They may appear to be disorganized and flighty daydreamers, which can result in career limitations. Some of the signs of adult ADD include:
Difficulty sustaining attention at work, school, or social events
Struggles to organize tasks or chores, feeling overwhelmed and confused
Easily distracted by external stimuli while attempting to complete tasks
Forgetting important events or dates, not fulfilling daily responsibilities due to forgetfulness.
Avoids tasks that require sustained attention
Prone to angry outbursts, easily frustrated
Makes careless mistakes, no attention to detail
Tendency to being late for appointments or work
Poor listening skills
Makes errors due to being unable to pay attention to instructions
Fails to complete assignments at work or school
Misplaces or loses important papers or items, “scatterbrained”
Adults who have undiagnosed ADD often gravitate toward tools that will assist them in work-related challenges. These may include day planners, cell phone lists, calendars, planners, sticky notes, to-do lists, smartphone apps that assist with organization, and white boards.
What Causes ADD?
This neurological disorder is still a mystery, however, brain imaging has shed some light on this disorder. In brain scans researchers have found that neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and GABA) are less active in the brain region that controls the executive functions. This may be due to genetics, as ADD can run in families. Other possible causes are environmental factors, nutrition, poor self-discipline, brain injuries, high exposure to lead or other environmental toxins, or a mother’s smoking or alcohol consumption while the child is in utero.
Adults who struggle with ADD are challenged each and every day to keep up with the demands of their employers, professors, or families. They have difficulty prioritizing, remembering things, and staying on task, which can cause a lot of daily stress and anxiety.
To diagnose the ADD, the clinician will use an interview and some assessment tools to determine how many of the behavioral features of ADD the individual might be exhibiting, and then diagnose it according to three main types:
Inattentive type. This type must have six of the following symptoms present:
Failing to pay attention or stay on task
Not listening carefully
Being distracted, daydreaming
Making careless mistakes
Losing things needed for tasks
Unable to follow or understand instructions
Not paying attention to detail
Avoiding complex tasks
Hyperactive-impulsive type. This type must have six of the following symptoms present:
Squirming, constant moving
Fidgeting, biting nails, playing with hair
Constantly on the go
Disruptive at meetings, talking out of turn
Difficulty remaining seated
Combined type. This is a blend of the above two types and is the most common form of ADD
Treatment for ADD
Treatment for adult ADD will likely be an integrated approach using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as well as teaching the client coping skills, helping the client to access tools that help with organization and prioritizing, using role playing, and teaching interpersonal skills. Medications, such as Adderall, Concerta, or Vyvanse, that are stimulants can help the client with concentration, memory, stamina, and focus.