ADHD in Adults: Spotting the Signs

Living with Adult ADHD: A Late Diagnosis

Many adults are unaware they have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) until later in life. While ADHD is commonly diagnosed in childhood, it often goes undetected and undiagnosed in adults. An estimated 1.5 million adults in the UK have ADHD, but only 120,000 have received a formal diagnosis.

As awareness grows, more adults are coming forward and seeking assessments. Understanding the symptoms and process of obtaining an ADHD diagnosis can provide closure and relief.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a genetic neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The most common age for diagnosis is between six and 12. However, symptoms can persist into adulthood.

There are three main symptom types:

  • Inattentiveness – Difficulty focusing and concentrating. Easily distracted. Avoidance of tedious tasks.
  • Hyperactivity – Restlessness, excessive talking, inability to sit still.
  • Impulsivity – Acting without thinking, little self-control, risk taking behaviours.

Around 20% of adults have primarily inattentive symptoms without hyperactivity. Symptoms vary in type and severity between individuals.

Why the Late Diagnosis?

There are several reasons ADHD goes undiagnosed into adulthood:

  • Lack of awareness – Many adults are unaware of ADHD symptoms. They believe they are just disorganised or flighty by nature.
  • No hyperactivity – Adults may have inattentiveness without obvious hyperactivity. Easier to miss.
  • Co-existing conditions – Symptoms attributed to other conditions like anxiety or depression.
  • Societal stigma – Embarrassment and guilt over struggles leads to avoidance.
  • Missed in childhood – Less awareness and more rigid diagnostic criteria years ago.

Without treatment, adults develop coping strategies to mask symptoms and seem to function normally. But this requires significant mental effort and can take a toll.

Seeking assessment and diagnosis later in life provides understanding and relief. Treatment can improve quality of life.

The Emotional Toll of Undiagnosed ADHD

Living with undiagnosed ADHD as an adult can take a heavy emotional toll. Adults report feeling a profound sense of relief when they finally get an accurate diagnosis and stop blaming themselves.

Without answers, adults with ADHD struggle with shame and embarrassment over their difficulties. They may view themselves as fundamentally flawed in some way.

The inability to perform tasks and behaviours that seem to come easily to others leads to deep self-doubt. Thoughts like “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why can’t I just do this?” are common.

Adults with ADHD talk about a lifetime of being labelled as lazy, scattered, disorganised, or unintelligent because of their symptoms. This leads to poor self-esteem.

Getting an ADHD diagnosis validates these struggles. It provides concrete answers and treatment options.

No more guessing at the cause of impairments. No more self-blame. Just understanding and steps to move forward.

Recognising Symptoms in Adults

Some key symptoms of ADHD in adults include:

  • Poor working memory – Forgetting simple tasks or instructions
  • Time blindness – Inability to estimate time needed for tasks
  • Task avoidance – Procrastination on jobs without immediate interest
  • Disorganisation – Messy home, chronic lateness, forgetfulness
  • Emotional dysregulation – Quickness to anger, mood swings
  • Impulsiveness – Risky behaviours, poor money management

ADHD symptoms lead to moderate or severe difficulties in work, relationships, and home life. Adults may have a history of underachievement, employment issues, relationship problems, substance abuse, or financial distress.

Online quizzes can help identify if you should seek formal assessment. But a medical diagnosis is required.

Getting Diagnosed as an Adult

Adult ADHD assessment involves detailed questions about current symptoms, family history, and childhood experiences. Diagnoses requires:

  • Symptoms present since before age 12
  • Symptoms currently causing moderate/severe impairment
  • Ruling out other possible conditions

The process can take time, but leads to proper treatment and support. Here are the steps:

  1. Discuss symptoms with your GP and request referral
  2. Specialist assessment interview
  3. Input from spouse, family, or friends
  4. Completion of symptom questionnaires
  5. Cognitive testing
  6. Review of school reports and other records

Once diagnosed, a combination treatment plan can help manage ADHD. This often includes medication, coaching, counselling, education, and workplace support.

Benefits of Diagnosis and Treatment

While being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult may not seem to change the past, it has many benefits:

  • Understanding – Validation of lifelong struggles and difficulties
  • Closure – Relief from self-blame and embarrassment
  • Support – Workplace accommodations and adjustments
  • Confidence – Recognising strengths like creativity and resilience
  • Progress – Learning coping strategies and improving focus
  • Medication – Better concentration and impulse control
  • Relationships – Improved communication and intimacy

Relationships Require Patience and Compassion

ADHD can negatively impact marriages, partnerships, and friendships. The non-ADHD person often feels overwhelmed.

A diagnosis allows couples to understand each other’s behaviours. With compassion, they can adapt communication styles.

Partners should avoid “parenting” their ADHD spouse. But they can gently help them stay focused on tasks, plan ahead, and manage time.

Learning about ADHD helps friends and family be less judgemental. They can recognise impairments are not due to laziness or lack of caring.

With proper treatment, adults with ADHD build skills for healthier relationships. They become more present, engaged, and thoughtful partners.

Seeking help is the first step. Don’t continue masking symptoms and living with impairments. An accurate diagnosis leads to support and treatment that can transform quality of life.

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

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