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ADHD in Adults (cont.)

ADHD in Adults Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents are predominantly external and easy to observe, such as physical hyperactivity. An exception is predominantly inattentive ADHD, formerly referred to as ADD, which is more common in girls. With age, a decrease in observable symptoms of ADHD seems to occur. Adults with ADHD have a longer delay before refocusing when their attention is misdirected, and they have difficulty switching tasks. The hyperactivity and impulsivity of adult ADHD are often more subtle than those symptoms types in children. For example, while hyperactivity may result in children being fidgety and frequently getting up from sitting, this symptom in adults may involve the adult getting bored easily and being unhappy about having to sit still rather than having to frequently change their position. On neuropsychological tests, these individuals often have trouble with sustained effort, planning, organization, visual tracking, and listening attentively.

ADHD is characterized by a long-term history of inattention, impulsiveness, and variable amounts of hyperactivity. Remember that all of these symptoms are normal human characteristics, so ADHD is not diagnosed solely based on the presence of these normal human behaviors. ADHD is determined by the degree of these behaviors and their interference with important areas of life. People with ADHD have these normal human characteristics to an excessive degree, with a poor ability to easily control them.

The Evolution of ADHD Characteristics From Childhood to Adulthood
Characteristic Childhood Manifestation Adult Manifestation
Hyperactivity Cannot sit still
Fidgety, restless
Always on the go
Inner restlessness
Inability to relax
Unhappy/discontent when inactive
Impulsivity Blurting out
Touching or exploring
Can't stay in line
Temper tantrums or outbursts
Interrupting, impatient
Snap decisions, recklessness
Switching tasks rapidly
Feeling "down" when bored or "up" when excited/stimulated
Inattention Distractible
Cannot finish work
Does not appear to hear
Often forgetful
Disorganization, forgetfulness
Poor time management
Misses parts of conversations

Although some adults with ADHD may not meet the full criteria used to diagnose ADHD in children, they may still experience significant impairment in certain aspects of life. Depending on their professional or domestic situation, these adults may need to deal with more complex abstract issues that can be difficult depending on their degree of ADHD severity. Consequently, a given individual's perception of his or her own degree of impairment may vary.

Some characteristics of adult ADHD include the following (remember these are normal human behaviors; ADHD is diagnosed based on the presence and severity of more than one of these characteristics):
  • Persistent motor hyperactivity: A person may feel restless, be unable to relax or settle down, or be discontent unless active.
  • Attention difficulties: Someone may have trouble keeping his or her mind on a conversation. He may be constantly aware of other things going on around him even when he tries to filter them out. She may have difficulty reading, finishing a task, or with focus or she may experience frequent forgetfulness.
  • Affective lability: This means that someone shifts from a normal mood to depression or excitement, and these shifts can be either reactive or spontaneous.
  • Disorganization or inability to complete tasks: She may be disorganized at work, home, or school. He frequently does not complete tasks or switches from one task to another.
  • Short temper with short-lived explosive outbursts: A person may lose control for short times or be easily provoked to anger or constantly irritable, and these problems may interfere with personal relationships.
  • Impulsivity: Impulsiveness may be minor (for example, talking before thinking, interrupting conversation, impatience) or major. Abruptly starting or stopping relationships (for example, multiple marriages, separations), antisocial behavior (for example, shoplifting), and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities without recognizing possible consequences (for example, buying spree) are examples of major impulsivity. The bottom line is that waiting to do something induces discomfort.
  • Emotional overreaction: Someone may react excessively or inappropriately with depression, confusion, uncertainty, anxiety, or anger to ordinary stresses. These emotional responses interfere with problem-solving abilities.

Other conditions, such as a substance-abuse disorder, major affective disorder (like major depression or bipolar disorder), schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and schizophrenia must be ruled out.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/22/2014

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental condition of inattention and distractibility, with or without accompanying hyperactivity.

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