A Proposed New Definition May Make ADHD Easier to Spot in Adults

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is still thought of as a childhood condition, even while it persists into adulthood for many patients who are diagnosed as children. But now, psychiatrists say, a proposed new definition of ADHD may make it easier to diagnose and treat older teens and adults.

Reporting at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting (in Honolulu — lucky shrinks!), researchers say the updated edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the DSM-5, which is slated for publication in 2013, may hold revamped diagnostic criteria for ADHD in adults. Increasingly, data suggest that the condition manifests differently in kids than in older teens and adults.

(More on TIME.com: Faking It: Why Nearly 1 in 4 Adults Who Seek Treatment Don’t Have ADHD)

The Los Angeles Times‘ Booster Shots blog reports:

For example, while children with ADHD may run around their classrooms and fail to complete their schoolwork, adults with the disorder are more likely to interrupt someone who is speaking and have problems meeting deadlines at work.

The hyperactivity seen in children tends to be reflected as restless feelings in adults. Impulsivity is more of an issue with children with the disorder, compared with adults, but problems with attention tend to persist from childhood into adulthood, [Dr. Steven Cuffe of the University of Florida] said.

While the current definition requires children to have at least six symptoms of ADHD to warrant diagnosis, the proposed definition would lower the minimum to four symptoms in adults. Overall, the new diagnostic criteria are likely to increase the prevalence of ADHD in the general population, Cuffe told Booster Shots, and some experts have concerns that the disorder will be overdiagnosed.

(More on TIME.com: Does the ADHD Drug Shortage Herald a Crackdown on Stimulants?)

That worry is underscored by recent findings that nearly a quarter of adults who currently seek a diagnosis of ADHD are faking it, in part to get their hands on the stimulant drugs that are used to treat it. Hopefully the new criteria will do more to pinpoint those who really need treatment, particularly in groups that are overlooked, than to inflate rates of the disorder.

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