April 19, 2022

What is ADHD? Diagnosing Adult ADHD

What is ADHD? Diagnosing Adult ADHD

ADHD presents with symptoms that are broken down into three main subtypes: inattention (inability to focus), hyperactivity (excess, unwanted movement) and impulsivity (Acting on automatic thoughts that occur in the moment).

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common (4% of Canadians) mental health conditions.

Adult ADHD is a mental health condition that affects many more people than are diagnosed for it. For example, women and girls in particular, are statistically less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD presents during childhood, and may just seem like an inability to focus that many people live with for their entire lives. Some children grow out of ADHD symptoms, but approximately 60% of people have symptoms that remain into adulthood. 

Do you have ADHD?

Progress toward destigmatizing mental health issues means more people see the hope of healing their brain as they would their body. Many people are seeking an ADHD diagnosis for symptoms they have been previously coping with.  

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to diagnose Adult ADHD. ADHD diagnoses are particularly difficult because of determining the difference between regular behaviour and ADHD symptoms, as ADHD can present in a variety of different ways. ADHD symptoms are also similar to depression, anxiety or substance abuse, making diagnosis particularly difficult. Another diagnostic difficulty is that women are less likely to be diagnosed because symptoms of ADHD can present differently for that demographic in childhood.

At Cognito, we take ADHD diagnosis very seriously which is why one of our prerequisites is confirmation of ADHD symptoms present in early childhood (Grade 8 at the latest). Our clinician team lead by a physician, psychologist, psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse uses regulated diagnostic forms, questionnaires and tests to help confirm diagnosis. In addition to this, our lead psychiatrist has a proprietary method of finding keyword clues in elementary school report cards that confirm early childhood presence of ADHD symptoms to authenticate diagnosis.  

Adult ADHD symptoms:

If you have ADHD, it can present in the following ways:

  • Impulsiveness - Not thinking things through. Acting on automatic thoughts. 
  • Disorganized, bad time management and prioritization of tasks - Focusing on what interests you instead of what needs to be done first. Lack of organization due to brain shifting between tasks and losing track of time. 
  • Troubles multi-tasking or problems focusing on a single task - Inability to complete a task or follow through until completion. Often perpetuated by distractions like a noisy office.
  • Compulsive excessive activity or restlessness - 
  • Frequent mood swings consisting of bad temper - May seem like manic shifts in mood. Often results in relationship trouble.
  • Trouble coping with stress - 

Do you have ADHD or just trouble focusing?

The most important aspect of discerning regular behaviour from ADHD symptoms is the presence of symptoms occurring in childhood. ADHD does not originate in adulthood, but due to advances in psychological and psychiatric understanding and diagnosis, many people are being diagnosed and treated for ADHD that wasn’t known or talked about when they were children.  

If you didn’t struggle with any of the following symptoms prior to age 12, you likely DO NOT have ADHD.

Early childhood ADHD symptoms (Inattentive subtype) : 

  • Careless mistakes in class or doing school work. Not paying attention.
  • Unfocused when completing tasks or during play
  • Appear not to listen, even when spoken to directly
  • Inability to complete instructions
  • Lack of organization
  • Avoid or dislike tasks that require focused mental effort, such as homework
  • Losing items. School: pencils, homework etc. Home: toys
  • Be easily distracted
  • Forget to do daily activities like homework, brushing teeth, household chores.

Early childhood ADHD symptoms (hyperactivity/impulsivity) :

  • Fidgeting
  • Restlessness - can’t stay seated.
  • Excessive movement/activity
  • Have trouble being quiet or playing at a volume appropriate for the setting
  • Talking out of turn. Interrupting teachers or people when talking.

Can you recall struggling with any of the above when you were a kid? Just as being sad once in a while doesn’t mean you’re depressed, or worrying about a big event doesn’t mean you have an anxiety disorder; most healthy children experience some of the above symptoms on occasion. However, if the above symptoms are familiar to your experiences prior to age 12, and you are still suffering from Adult ADHD symptoms, seek out local mental health resources, talk to your doctor, or let us help at getcognito.ca

I have an ADHD diagnosis, now what?

To treat adult ADHD, the preferred treatment method is combined psychology and psychiatric treatment.  

Psychiatric ADHD treatment

The main subclass of medication to treat adult ADHD are stimulants. Stimulants have been shown to boost and balance neurotransmitters to help regulate peoples resting state. Stimulants that include methylphenidate or amphetamines are most often prescribed, but come with a list of drug interactions and side effects. Some antidepressants have also shown to be effective in treating ADHD, and are more mild which results in less side effects but also slower positive results. 

Common medication (stimulants) to treat ADHD:

  • amphetamine (Adderall XR)
  • methylphenidate (Biphentin)
  • methylphenidate (Concerta)
  • methylphenidate (Daytrana)
  • dexmethylphenidate (Focalin XR)
  • novo-methylphenidate ER-C
  • methylphenidate (Ritalin LA)
  • lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
  • dextro-amphetamine (Dexedrine and Dexedrine Spansules)
  • dexmethylphenidate (Focalin)
  • methylphenidate (Ritalin, Ritalin SR, and generics)

Psychological ADHD treatment

At Cognito, our preferred form of psychotherapy is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This approach is particularly effective for people experiencing ADHD symptoms because it implements structure, provides homework and requires accountability. Through CBT, people suffering from ADHD can learn skills to improve time management and organizational skills, become more aware of their impulsive behaviours to identify when those actions are occurring and stop them, and learn techniques to control temper. At Cognito we focus our CBT sessions on helping people develop their executive functions to self regulate and take control of their symptoms. Through bi-monthly follow ups with a Cognito care coach, people gain insight to their behaviours and track how their newly learned skills can help them reach their goals. With CBT, our ADHD patients report increased self esteem, and better control of their moods overall.

Cognito Adult ADHD: Diagnosis, treatment, management

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to diagnose ADHD. If you think you might have ADHD, first try to make the connection to occurrences of these symptoms in your childhood. If you have report cards or other school documents prior to age 12, these may help a clinician team confirm your ADHD diagnosis

Also, it’s important to understand your tolerance for medication as many ADHD stimulants have side effects. 

If you’re diagnosed with ADHD, and you decide in conjunction with your physician team that medication is required to help your recovery, ensure you supplement psychiatric treatment with cognitive behavioural therapy and do the homework for your best chance of feeling like yourself again. 

If you suspect you are struggling with a mental health condition like ADHD or need help managing ADHD symptoms, visit getcognito.ca

If you are in emotional distress, please contact the resources below
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