Unmasking Adult ADHD and Recognizing the Symptoms
Until recently, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was often associated with childhood, but it’s essential to recognize that it can persist into adulthood as well. Approximately 60% of children with ADHD continue to experience symptoms well into their adult years.
More recent studies have found that a substantial proportion of those with adult ADHD did not have the condition in childhood. ADHD in adulthood is associated with significant impairment in occupational, academic, and social functioning.
ADHD in adults is characterized by symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and restlessness, resulting in functional impairment. Impairment in executive function is common. Emotional dysregulation is often seen in these patients.
Unfortunately, adult ADHD often goes undiagnosed and unrecognized, leading to numerous challenges in various aspects of life. This article will shed light on the symptoms of adult ADHD, helping individuals and their loved ones better understand and identify this condition.
Many of the symptoms of inattention in adults with ADHD are also classified as deficits in executive function, which has been defined as, “self-directed actions needed to choose goals and to create, enact, and sustain actions toward those goals”
If you have adult ADHD, you may have trouble organizing, remembering instructions, staying on track, and following through with a task. These are signs of executive dysfunction, in which your brain struggles with memory, attention, and self-regulation.
But ADHD is not the only cause of executive function disorder. Other medical issues, such as autism, depression, multiple sclerosis, and dementia, are also associated with executive function challenges.
So, if you have ADHD, you’ll likely notice problems with your executive function. But if you struggle with executive function, this does not mean you have ADHD.
What Is Executive Dysfunction?
Executive dysfunction is a range of behavioral symptoms that change how you regulate emotions, thoughts, and actions.
It most commonly affects people with specific mental health disorders, including ADHD and mood disorders.
If you have executive dysfunction, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Struggling to plan and organize activities
- Having difficulty prioritizing and sequencing steps to complete a task
- Find it very difficult to meet deadlines
- Difficulty staying focused
- Trouble regulating your emotions
- Being late to appointments, events, meetings, or social activities
- Lose important items and forget details
- Struggling to switch between tasks
- Problems with motivation
- Impulsivity and making poor decisions
- Have difficulty multitasking.
- Others may view you as being mentally rigid and/or inflexible.
A person experiencing executive dysfunction may show some or most of the signs above. But if you only have trouble with one or two of them, it’s unlikely that you have executive function disorder.
One of the hallmark symptoms of adult ADHD is difficulty maintaining focus and attention. Adults with ADHD may struggle to concentrate on tasks especially for long periods, frequently become easily distracted, have trouble organizing their thoughts, and struggle to follow through on commitments. They may often feel overwhelmed by multiple tasks or responsibilities, leading to a sense of inefficiency and frustration.
Adults with ADHD often have difficulties in organizing activities, prioritizing tasks, following through and completing tasks, forgetfulness, and time management (missing appointments or deadlines). Adults with ADHD will often report that tasks are finished only at deadlines, often late or even not at all. Increased problems related to driving, including increases in driving errors, traffic tickets, and speeding may be related to attention deficits.
While hyperactivity tends to diminish with age, it can still be present in adults with ADHD. Hyperactivity in adults may manifest as restlessness, an intense need to keep moving, and a tendency to engage in impulsive behaviors without considering the consequences. Adults with ADHD may find it challenging to relax, sit still for extended periods, or engage in activities that require sustained mental effort.
Impulsivity is another key symptom of adult ADHD. Individuals may struggle to think before acting, often blurting out thoughts or interrupting others during conversations. They may have difficulty waiting their turn, exhibit impatience, and engage in risky behaviors without considering the potential negative outcomes. Impulsivity can affect personal relationships, work performance, and overall well-being.
Adults with ADHD often struggle with organization and time management. They may have difficulty maintaining order in their personal spaces, frequently misplace belongings, and have trouble keeping track of important documents or appointments. These challenges can lead to a sense of chaos, missed deadlines, and increased stress levels.
Poor Emotional Regulation
Emotional dysregulation is a common symptom of adult ADHD. Individuals may experience mood swings, ranging from intense frustration and anger to feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction. This emotional volatility can strain personal relationships and make it challenging to handle stressful situations effectively.
Adults with ADHD may have difficulties with short-term memory, leading to forgetfulness and difficulty retaining information. They may struggle to recall conversations, appointments, or tasks, which can lead to frustration and a sense of unreliability.
Procrastination is a common challenge for individuals with ADHD. The difficulty in initiating tasks, sustaining focus, and managing time effectively can often lead to postponing responsibilities until the last minute. This habit of chronic procrastination can have adverse effects on productivity, personal growth, and overall well-being.
Occupational effects of ADHD
Adults with ADHD who are employed experience workplace impairment and reduced productivity; they are also at increased risk of accidents, trauma, and workplace injuries, particularly traffic accidents. Other problems associated with adult ADHD include reduced educational achievement and increased rates of substance abuse, and criminality
Adult ADHD Can Be Associated With a Higher Risk of Death
Interestingly, in a study of Danish national registries (Dalsgaard S, et al, Lancet. 2015;385(9983):2190) mortality rates were found to be higher in persons diagnosed with ADHD compared to persons without ADHD. In this analysis of all nearly 2 million Danes
born during the 30 year period ending in 2013, 32,061 had been diagnosed with ADHD; they had a mortality rate greater than persons without ADHD (5.85 versus 2.21 per 10,000 person-years), after adjusting for sociodemographic and clinical characteristics. Excess mortality remained present in persons without more common, higher risk co-morbidities of ADHD (oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and substance use disorder). Accidents were the most common cause of death among persons with ADHD. Excess mortality was higher among individuals diagnosed with ADHD as adults compared to those diagnosed prior to age 18 years.