Family Matters

Why ADHD is Not Just a Problem for Kids

  • Share
  • Read Later
Robin Nelson / Corbis

The effects of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can extend well beyond childhood, according to the latest research.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Mayo Clinic found that close to a third of children with ADHD — 29.3% — still have the disorder as adults, along with an increased rate of other psychiatric problems. “We have trivialized this condition,” says lead author Dr. William Barbaresi. “We need to recognize that this is a chronic health problem that often persists into adulthood.”

Previous estimates of the rate at which ADHD persists into adulthood had ranged widely, from 6% to 66%, but those studies relied on small groups of children. Barbaresi and his colleagues identified 379 cases of ADHD in the 5,718 children born during a six-year period from 1976 to 1982 in Rochester, Minn. Between 7% to 9% of the Rochester kids developed ADHD, which is consistent with current national estimates of 7.5%. Decades later, they were able to track down and enlist 62% of those now-adults — 232 people — to participate in the research.

Of the third who still had ADHD at age 27, 81% had at least one additional psychiatric disorder and 47% of those who no longer had ADHD had at least one other psychiatric diagnosis, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics. The findings suggest that ADHD may frequently occur with other mental health disorders, and may serve as a marker for these condition. “That group with ADHD is at highest risk for having additional mental health problems,” says Barbaresi, who is director of the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “We have to stop trivializing ADHD as just another childhood behavior problem. The nature and duration of this study show we have to recognize it as a chronic serious health problem that deserves a lot more attention than it has received.”

(MORE: ADHD Diagnoses Continue to Climb)

It’s not that the condition isn’t being addressed adequately, or that doctors, parents and teachers are not aware of the condition: they certainly are, since education and awareness about ADHD has increased in recent decades, even contributing to a rise in diagnoses. In that time, schools and parents have tried to improve learning environments to help children who have difficulty concentrating so they can get more from their education in the classroom. Barbaresi argues, however, that the legacy and long term implications of an ADHD diagnosis haven’t really been considered and studied adequately, since most doctors tend to think of the condition as one that primarily affects children that they tend to outgrow once they reach adulthood. The need for attention is even greater considering that the study also found a connection between ADHD and suicide. While the absolute number of deaths in the adults who still have ADHD is low, the statistical difference is significant: children with ADHD were nearly five times more likely to die from suicide than other people in the study group.

Of the seven deaths in the twenty- and thirty-something adults who had a history of chilhood ADHD, five were associated with psychiatric and substance abuse problems. “We have to pay attention to the things that go with ADHD,” says Barbaresi.

In addition, data from this same group of study participants showed that more than 60% of kids with ADHD have a learning disability and develop at least one additional mental-health problem while they’re still children. Yet insurance companies are reluctant to authorize additional assessments that may detect and treat these conditions. “If a child gets diagnosed with ADHD, we want to do a comprehensive psychological assessment to see if the child has undiagnosed disorders because we know these kids are at risk,” says Barbaresi. “But insurance won’t pay.”

That’s in stark contrast to the way that children are evaluated for other medical conditions, such as diabetes. “We know they’re at risk for developing kidney and eye problems so they’re regularly assessed for those issues. We don’t wait until a child has renal failure or loses his eyesight,” says Barbaresi. “But with childhood ADHD, we can’t get authorization to do these assessments until it’s already happened.”

(MORE: ADHD Medications Improve Decision-Making, But Are They Being Over Used?)

14 comments
HeatherR.Carson
HeatherR.Carson

ADD is a neurological condition - it can be confirmed via PET scans. Communication pathways between the left and right brain route differently than average people, affecting executive function. The reason that it goes undiagnosed in adults is that they are often smarter than average and have found ways to compensate  It is not caused by poor diet or vaccines, or anything else. Side effects are minimal once the right type and dose of medication is found, if you opt for that route. There's a lot of BS claims in this thread. Please read Drive to Distraction for actual scientifically valid advice as well as seeing a physciatrist an MD. 

greyworld
greyworld

Thanks for all the suggestions and support, internet community.  I think I'm going to try a medicated approach, along with other tactics (like the meditation suggestion, more cardio excercise, better diet etc).  I've received a lot of recommendations that I try the medication, and to be fair my bias against meds was based on prior experience with a totally different spectrum of psych meds, SSRIs.  And thos might be fine too, for the right people in the right way.  But they didnt especially help me out the way I was given them so it's biased me away from psych meds.   But I'm gonna try to set that experience behind me and move forward. 

Thanks for everyones input and helpful suggestions I'm trying to take it all into account.

womenspk
womenspk

ADHD is NOT a psychiatric disorder. This is completely misleading to those serious about understanding ADHD. It's also not due to a low IQ. If anything, these individuals have higher than normal IQ's. Mislabeling this as a psychiatric disorder shows a complete carelessness on the author's part.

Time, please fix this.

ClintMcS
ClintMcS

greyworld,

Find a good psychiatrist and behavioral psychologist that should form the foundation of your ADHD treatment team.  Ignore the BS on the internet about how horrible ADHD meds are because medication is probably necessary, at least for awhile.  Any side effects are very temporary, and most of the medications have been around for many, many years so we'd know if there were any serious side effects.  However, medication is only part of the equation.  You'll also benefit from good behavioral interventions that will help you manage your life in spite of ADHD.  Finding work that is meaningful to you that suits your brain's style of functioning is key to feeling good about yourself.  Your brain is not defective, just a bit different from most brains.  With time and some good coaching from truly knowledgeable professionals you can lead a productive, enjoyable life.

Also, I'd encourage you to ignore all the BS about foods that affect your symptoms because 95% of it's not true.  Eat a normal healthy diet of mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grain carbohydrates, and lean proteins, and you'll be fine.  Exercise, however, is very important for several reasons.  Everyone's brain functions better with routine exercise, and your ADHD brain especially will function better with routine exercise.  Best of luck to you, and work to find the right medication, dose, and lifestyle that suits your brain and your personality.

ClintMcS
ClintMcS

While I sincerely appreciate this new research and value Dr. Barbaresi's statements about the implications of the study, this information isn't really new.  We've known for decades that ADHD dramatically increases risk of comorbid disorders, such as anxiety and depression, conduct disorder, personality disorders, suicide, etc.  Unfortunately, those who continue to struggle with ADHD for the rest of their lives (and I believe that it's more than 30%) don't benefit from many of the treatments that are available.  Because there's been so much unscientific proselytizing from people with other agendas about ADHD, this disorder remains very misunderstood.  However, there's a large body of very solid neuroscience research that very clearly and unequivocally indicates that this is both a structural and functional biologic condition with numerous negative consequences.

Until we have universal health care that is free of the profit motive in this country, we will continue to ignore all the treatable suffering, lost productivity, and wasted quality of life for the roughly 22,500,000 individuals in the U.S. with ADHD.  This situation merely highlights how dysfunctional our for-profit health care "system" is.  We are marching blindly into national bankruptcy so that the massive financial gain by a few can continue to grow unabated by any rational analysis or moral correction.  Shame on all of us, and mostly on those greedy and inhumane corporate and political leaders responsible for this unethical and obscene situation.

stargazr9690
stargazr9690

Back in my day they said you just were not trying hard enough, that was your problem..problem for someone of today as adults we struggle as we did as children but worst

greyworld
greyworld

i believe i have adult ADHD.  I'm 37. Of course self diagnosis is questionable, I'm no professional.  But it seems obvious.  I can never seem to finish anything, even basic sentences or simple everyday tasks without getting distracted and sidetracked.  It's extremely frustrating.  Driving feels like a signifigant safety risk because i'm so easily distracted by unimportant things on the road. Also the risk of suicide should not be taken lightly.  It makes me feel so dumb sometimes, being unable to organize my life.  Doubly frustrating because by some metrics i'm a pretty smart guy.  Doesn't matter though, if anything shiny totally derails your train of thought...  And I'm such a drain on my family.  Its just really depressing.   I wish i could find some non-medicated approach to fixing this.  I don't trust the psych meds.  They tried putting me on those when i was a child and it didn't really accomplish anything.  Kinda made me feel like someone just smacked me upside the head, all the time.  My paranoia is that all the meds we put people on for psychiatric stuff is bad science and is making the problem worse.  I've tried adjusting my diet, getting more exercise  regulating my sleep schedule, volunteering at the local VA.  I've seen therapists.  I just don't know what else to try.  Now I'm finding that as more time goes on, the problem isn't getting any better, and I'm getting meaner.  I'm kind of a real jerk anymore, and that pretty depressing.  I'll be watching this comment thread for anyone's suggestions about how they may have dealt with this same problem.  Also you can email me your suggestions at greyworld (AT) gmail  (DOT) com

mgurramu
mgurramu

These medicines are hallucinating... they make you hallucinate and this is purely meth........slowly you will loose you appetite..

mgurramu
mgurramu

ADHD medicines have hell of side effects...this is from experience....they must be banned for children..

mgurramu
mgurramu

Do not take ADHD medicines....they have hell of side effects....these medicines must be banned for children.

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

How to stop ADHD: The food was changed in the USA, UK and Australia 30 years ago when dangerous food chemicals from the USA was allowed. The food today causes  insulin resistance related ADHD, If you have insulin resistance you hold fat, get diabetes or ADHD. You can eat very little and the weight still does not come off. We do not make good insulin anymore due to food chemicals which cause ADHD. When researchers used a specialized diabetes diet much of ADHD was reversed  SEE Here   http://type2diabetesdietplan.blogspot.com/2013/01/my-child-has-adhd-what-did-they-put-in.html


um1
um1

@greyworld
There a lots of software programmes out there but you can do with an executive function coach.

Also think about the physiological problems that can affect change. Try something like Learning Break Through or Bal-A-Vis-X. These help integrate the system better for improved function.

Finally, get down to the gym do some serious cardio vascular exercise. Even skipping with a skipping rope every day will create an improved neural system.

fatality1515
fatality1515

@greyworld

Maybe try meditating.. Sit on the floor, legs crossed ("lotus" like position), straight back, hands resting on the knees, eyes open looking straight ahead.. Sitting in this position SLOWLY breath in and out.. While you slowly breath in count to 5 (in your head), then when you exhale slowly count to 5 as well.. Hmmm I wonder if it's going to rain today.. Don't let your eyes wonder around the room, just look straight ahead, not focusing on anything particular. Also try to keep your mind clear, try not to let any thoughts enter your mind and distract you. The only thing you need to focus on is breathing and counting.
When you get a hang of breathing and counting to 5, increase the count number to 10. By the way, turn off the TV and don't play any music in the background! Do this for about 15 minutes daily.

Since you're probably an american, I will have to mention this: I am not responsible for any physical, mental, or monetary damage the above advice may cause, use it at your own risk!

CelticPaddy
CelticPaddy

@mgurramu

Don't talk about things that you have zero understanding of... understand?