Aging and ADHD
ADHD isn't just for kids. Here's what it's like later in life.
When to See a Doctor continued...
As part of your evaluation, you'll be asked questions about your symptoms, whether they started in childhood, and how they're impacting your current life. Your doctor will investigate whether your symptoms could be due to something other than ADHD. He or she may do neuropsychological tests and a CT scan or MRI to check for signs of cognitive decline, says Lenard Adler, MD, professor of psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry and director of the Adult ADHD program at the New York University School of Medicine.
If possible, ask your spouse, adult child, or even your parent (if they're able) to go with you to your evaluation. "It's important to have someone who can help provide additional observations about the symptoms and impairments that have occurred over a long period of time," Goodman says.
Once you've been diagnosed with ADHD, your doctor may recommend medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Medications such as Adderall XR, Concerta, Quillivant XR, Focalin XR, Strattera, and Vyvanse are commonly used to treat ADHD in adults. Side effects of these drugs can include insomnia, jitteriness, decreased appetite, and weight loss. In addition, these medications can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to go up slightly.
Takahashi suggests weighing the potential benefits and risks of medication with your doctor. "The side effects from ADHD medications can be worse for older adults if they already have, for example, high blood pressure, heart disease, or problems with sleeping," he says. Also, be sure to let your doctor know if you are taking medications for other conditions, as they could interact with ADHD drugs.
A number of different types of psychotherapy are useful for treating ADHD in adults. Adler says cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, can be quite helpful when used alone or in conjunction with medication. This type of therapy focuses on changing negative thought patterns, solving problems, and developing skills to handle challenges.
Living Better With ADHD
In addition to exploring treatment options with a doctor, the following strategies can help older adults with ADHD manage their daily lives better:
- Keep a daily schedule: Write out a schedule each day with tasks and appointments allocated to specific times and follow through with it. Also, break big tasks or goals into smaller steps. "People with ADHD tend to get more easily overwhelmed and to avoid things that require sustained mental effort," Goodman says. "But if you break a task down and get it done over the course of several days, it's easier."
- Put technology to work for you: Use the alarm on your cell phone or watch, for example, to help you remember deadlines and appointments.
- Automate tasks so you have fewer things to remember: Goodman suggests signing up, for example, for automatic prescription refills or setting up automatic bill payments so you don't have to keep track of when bills are due or risk running up late fees.
- Reach out for support: "I strongly encourage people to share their diagnosis of ADHD with their friends and family if they feel comfortable," Takahashi says. "We all need support to keep us moving forward."