Workplace May Overwhelm Adults With ADHD
Simulation Study Portrays Patients Plagued by Short Attention Span
May 26, 2005 (Atlanta) -- Plagued by hyperactivity and restlessness, adult
victims of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often have significant
difficulties getting the job done, according to the first study to simulate
their performance in the workplace.
"They have difficulty with many of the things they need to do in the
workplace, such as solving math problems or understanding a document dealing
with new regulations," says researcher Joseph Biederman, MD, professor of
psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Making matters worse, the boss often has no idea of what's really going on
and may end up writing off the employee as a low-skilled fidgeter, the study
"Adults with ADHD are typically unemployed, underemployed, or change
jobs frequently," says Biederman.
In fact, his other research shows that ADHD patients suffer an average of
$10,000 a year in lost income -- adding up to nearly $80 billion annually on
the national level. More than 8 million adults, or 4.3% of American adults,
suffer from ADHD.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric
An Accurate Portrait
Howard Eist, MD, past president of the APA and an ADHD specialist at George
Washington University in Washington, D.C., says the study paints an accurate
portrait of adults with ADHD in the workplace.
But there are a few jobs where adults with ADHD tend to excel -- journalism
and emergency room medicine, he says.
"The deadline pressure, the constant jumping from task to task, gives
them an adrenaline rush, similar to the effect of Ritalin," a drug used to
treat ADHD, Eist tells WebMD. "Boredom is noxious to people with
Getting On With the Job
For the study, 18 adults with ADHD and 18 adults without the condition
participated in an eight-hour simulation work day. Those with ADHD were asked
to abstain from taking their medications on the day of the study.
The participants sat at classroom-like tables, where they performed and were
graded on a variety of tasks: reading passages, solving math and logic
problems, watching videos, and writing.
Compared with those without the condition, ADHD patients were significantly
less likely to comprehend what they read and correctly solve math problems.
While their performance on comprehending video messages and writing was not
impaired, adults with ADHD reported they felt overwhelmed, inattentive, and
fidgety during the tasks.
But asked to judge what was going on, "all the observers could see was
their hyperactivity, their fidgeting," Biederman tells WebMD.
"And if your boss sees your fidgeting, this tends to work against you in
ADHD in adults is associated with deficits in structured work-related tasks,
the researchers say. In addition, it affects internal and external observation
of symptoms of ADHD.