Many adults with ADHD never receive proper diagnosis

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - a condition characterised by inattention and impulsivity - is not just a childhood ailment.

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ABU DHABI // A condition commonly associated with hyperactive children, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often goes undiagnosed in adults, leading to potential professional and personal problems, experts say.

While psychologists agree that ADHD is not an adult-onset disorder and that symptoms begin in childhood, many who have the condition are unaware, said Deema Sihweil, clinical director and psychologist at Dubai’s Carbone Clinic.

“Since attention deficit disorders are relatively new diagnoses, adults of this generation may never have been properly diagnosed as children,” Dr Sihweil said. “This could lead to great misconceptions about what could be going on in problematic behaviours in adults.”

ADHD is typically characterised by inattention and impulsivity. Symptoms range from a lack of focus or concentration on tasks, social or vocational problems, poor impulse control, sleep disorders, time-management difficulties and memory problems.

Because these symptoms are also characteristic of depressive disorders, the condition is often misdiagnosed, Dr Sihweil said.

“Often adults with underlying cognitive attentional difficulties may be diagnosed and treated for depression,” she said. “And sometimes adults may be diagnosed with ADHD when any underlying emotional disorder may be at the root of the problems.

“So it is important for adults presenting with symptoms to get evaluated and tested to receive an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.”

If untreated, adults with ADHD are more likely to have work, social and relationship-related impairments, said Dr Hanan Hussein, a consultant psychiatrist at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology.

“They are more likely to perform poorly at work, change employers with fewer occupational achievements and have a lower socioeconomic status.

“They are more likely to have driving violations. They may get involved in use of illegal substances more frequently. They are more likely to have more marital problems and multiple marriages with higher incidence of separation and divorce.

“Lack of awareness and misconceptions about ADHD symptoms is behind the seemingly low prevalence of adult ADHD,” Dr Hussein said. “It is falsely believed that ADHD is a willpower problem, but it’s essentially a chemical problem in the management systems of the brain.”

ADHD adults are often found in specific jobs, most often in creative roles, said Jared Alden, of the German Neuroscience Centre in Dubai Healthcare City.

“It is true they are the artists and thinkers of our time. You will not often find them being accountants. They are unlikely to be in the diplomatic corps or any profession that requires conformity, consistency of habits and sitting still.

“The ADHD adult is a global thinker who can see the end result quickly and is often full of unique ideas. They struggle with the details and get easily bored with the process of bringing their great ideas to fruition.”

While there is no UAE specific data for adult ADHD, Mr Alden believes the prevalence is in line with global statistics.

“There is not a week that goes by in the past 20 years that I have not had someone with ADHD come into my office. I would say the same has been true for my last six years in the UAE.”