Affecting many millions of people worldwide, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is well known to develop during childhood. One of the criteria of ADHD diagnosis is the age when symptoms develop. Specifically, the symptoms must occur before the age of 12. Although many children outgrow this condition, roughly 60% of them continue to experience symptoms into adulthood.
There are a few questions that are still under research: who gets adult ADHD? Is it possible to develop this condition later on in life? What triggers ADHD in adults? Let’s review in this article what is known so far about adult ADHD.
Can you get ADHD later on in life?
Most doctors and scientists believe that every adult with ADHD had this condition as a child– the only difference is that some are aware and had ADHD diagnosed early in life while others did not know about it and discovered it later in life.
Although this theory is controversial, some studies describe a form of ADHD that arises during adulthood and is different from childhood-onset ADHD.
Yet, others believe that this adult ADHD is mostly due to the existence of so-called “subthreshold “ childhood ADHD.
There is one special form of ADHD that can develop in adults, which happens after a documented brain injury. This form of ADHD is secondary to brain trauma.
Roughly 4-5% of American adults have ADHD, and men and women are affected equally. However, compared with children, fewer adults get the diagnosis and treatment for this condition.
The typical symptoms of adult ADHD are also well described. Adults with this condition may have trouble organizing tasks, completing work on time, concentrating and focusing, following directions and instructions, and remembering information. These issues lead to low performance at work, changing jobs frequently, and feeling unhappy at work. Adults with ADHD may recall having troubles at school- like repeating a grade or dropping out of school. Relationships can also be affected, as adults with ADHD are at increased risk to have more marital problems, including separations and divorces, and multiple marriages.
Increased risk of developing anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, smoking, boredom, mood swings, low self-esteem, anger issues, low motivation, and procrastination are also linked with adult ADHD.
What triggers ADHD symptoms in adults?
- Stress is perhaps the most common trigger for adults with ADHD. It is a vicious cycle as stress leads to worsening of the symptoms which further cause more stress and anxiety. While stress can aggravate many conditions, those with ADHD are even more affected because they can’t filter external stimuli or silence internal, negative thoughts, both of which trigger stress. Using stress management techniques such as deep breathing or yoga or a regular basis can help effectively manage stress. Even 10 minutes once or twice a day can make a difference.
- Media, electronic devices. Let’s face it, it is impossible to turn on the TV news or log into your social media account and not come across bad news. Sometimes it feels that the only things reported are depressing, serious events. Why does the media focus on bad news rather than good news? It is because dangerous news is more likely to catch your attention. Bad news sells better than good news and the media knows that. An adult with ADHD experiences aggravation of the symptoms- particularly attention issues because media and using electronic devices cause general ovestimulation. Therefore, try to limit the amount of time spent watching news, social media or playing video games.
- Lack of sleep. ADHD increases the risk of sleeping difficulties and lack of quality sleep worsen the symptoms of ADHD. Sometimes the stimulant medication contributes to insomnia. Comorbidities such as anxiety and depression may also play a role. There are simple solutions to improve sleep: avoid using electronics or eating a few hours before bedtime, go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day and keep your bedroom completely dark.
- Lack of regular exercise leads to memory problems, decreased motivation, focus and attention span, while regular exercise improves symptoms of ADHD . Aim for 30-45 minutes of exercise most days of the week- it can be weights, aerobic training , high intensity interval training (HIIT), running or a walk in the park. Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy.
- Junk food. Highly processed foods are high in calories, salt, sugar and bad fats, yet lack essential nutrients. While Western diet is associated with increased risk of ADHD and worsening symptoms, eating a healthy, balanced diet like the Mediterranean diet can help ameliorate this condition.
- Skipping meds or taking the wrong medication. It is important to take the drugs as recommended. In some cases, the recommended drug may cause unwanted side effects . Some antidepressant drugs can worsen the ADHD symptoms while ADHD meds can increase anxiety. Talk to your doctor if you experience problems, as you may need adjustments in the treatment plan.
Notice that all these major triggers of ADHD can be modified. As you improve your lifestyle- the way you eat, sleep, manage stress, and stay active, you will see improvements in your symptoms. If you have trouble maintaining certain routines, try to work with a nutritionist or a fitness coach.