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ADHD not just a children’s disease, says Harvard Health Letter

Boston , MA —Although attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is usually associated with children, it can be a lifelong disorder. Studies uncover statistically significant numbers of adults with ADHD. The October issue of the Harvard Health Letter examines this disorder and its implications for the adults who may be affected by it.

Estimates on how many Americans are ADHD-afflicted vary, from 1% on the low end to as much as 6%, which equals about 10 million people. Accordingly, several studies show that 80% of ADHD children grow into ADHD adolescents.

The profile of an adult with ADHD can vary from that of a child. Most experts agree that pure hyperactive behavior usually diminishes with maturity. Adults usually have problems with time management, self-control, planning for the future, and being able to persist toward goals.

For ADHD diagnosis, a thorough physical exam is performed first to rule out other problems. Then, clinicians question patients using standardized lists of ADHD symptoms to come up with a score on severity and persistence. For now experts agree that there's no such thing as adult-onset ADHD. Therefore, a childhood history of ADHD symptoms is essential for diagnosis of adult ADHD.

The October issue offers advice for adults with ADHD:

  • Get evaluated. You need a clinician experienced in diagnosing adult ADHD. Also, find out if there's an ADHD support group or organization active in your area.
  • Get medication. For many adults, medications lessen the disorder's internal noise and outward chaos, helping them to gain some sense of self-control. The same drugs used for ADHD children can be used for adults.
  • Get educated. There is a large and helpful body of literature on adult ADHD you can tap into.
  • Get organized. Get a calendar or personal organizer to help you build schedules and routines.
  • Get counseling. Adult ADHD can put tremendous strain on a marriage, a relationship, or an entire family. Talking it out can help.
  • Get moving. For ADHD adults, exercise is a healthy way to burn off excess energy.

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Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.