Many individuals with ADHD will have fewer symptoms as they age, but some adults continue to have a number of traits that interfere with daily functioning. In adults, the main features of ADHD may include difficulty paying attention, impulsiveness and restlessness. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Many adults with ADHD aren’t probably aware they have the condition but they just know that everyday tasks can be a challenge. Adults with ADHD may find it difficult to focus and prioritise, leading to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings or social plans. The inability to control impulses can range from impatience waiting in line or driving in traffic to mood swings and outbursts of anger.
Adult ADHD symptoms may include:
- Disorganisation and problems prioritising
- Poor time management skills
- Problems focusing on a task
- Trouble multitasking
- Excessive activity or restlessness
- Poor planning
- Low frustration tolerance
- Frequent mood swings
- Problems following through and completing tasks
- Hot temper
- Trouble coping with stress
Almost everyone has some symptoms or traits similar to ADHD at some stage. However it’s when these symptoms are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in more than one area of your life that it will be time to consider seeking help or support. The diagnosis of ADHD in adults however can be difficult because some ADHD symptoms are similar to those caused by other conditions, such as anxiety or mood disorders. In addition many adults with ADHD also have at least one other mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.
Some tips for supporting adults with ADHD would include the following
Organisation. Start by organising a room, home, or office, start by categorising your objects, deciding which are necessary and which can be stored or discarded. Decide what will be needed on a daily basis, and find storage bins or cupboards for things that can be retrieved when required. Designate specific areas for things like keys, bills, and other items that can be easily misplaced. Throw away things that are not needed.
Effective use of a day planner or a calendar on your smartphone or computer can help you remember appointments and deadlines. With electronic calendars, you can also set up automatic reminders so scheduled events don’t slip your mind.
Also, make use of lists and notes to keep track of regularly scheduled tasks, projects, deadlines, and appointments. If using a daily planner then keep all lists and notes inside it.
Set aside a few minutes each day to deal with the post preferably as soon as you bring it inside. It helps to have a designated spot where you can sort the mail and either trash it, file it, or act on it and minimise the amount of paper you have to deal with by requesting electronic statements and bills instead of paper copies. Thereafter, set up a filing system by using dividers or separate file folders for different types of documents (such as medical records, receipts, and income statements). Label and colour-code your files so that you can find what you need quickly.
Time management: Difficulties with time management is a common effect of ADHD. Time may have little meaning, so deadlines may be missed and both procrastination and underestimation of how much time is needed for tasks may take place. Many adults with ADHD spend so much time on one task or “hyper-focusing”—that nothing else gets done. These difficulties can leave feelings of frustration and be difficult on others so as a result, the following may help.
- Become a clock-watcher. Use a wristwatch or highly visible wall or desk clock to help keep track of time.
- Use timers. Allow limited amounts of time for each task and use a timer or alarm to alert when your time is up. For longer tasks, consider setting an alarm to go off at regular intervals to keep on task and be aware of how much time is going by.
- Allow more time than you think you need. Adults with ADHD are notoriously poor at estimating how long it will take to do something. For every thirty minutes to go someplace or to complete a task, provide a cushion by adding ten minutes.
- Plan to be early and set up reminders. Write down appointments for fifteen minutes earlier than they are. Set up reminders to ensure leaving on time and make sure everything is organised in advance including keys or phone.
Dealing with Impulsivity
Because adults with ADHD often struggle with impulse control and jump from one subject to another, completing tasks can be difficult and large projects can seem overwhelming. To overcome this maybe observe the following:
- Decide what to tackle first. Determine what is the most important task needed to be accomplished, and then order priorities after that one.
- Take things one at a time. Break down large projects or jobs into smaller, manageable steps.
- Stay on task. Avoid getting side-tracked by sticking to the schedule, using a timer to enforce it if necessary.
Money management requires budgeting, planning, and organisation, so for many adults with ADHD, it can pose a true challenge. Many common systems of money management don’t tend to work for adults with ADHD because they require too much time, paper, and attention to detail.
Signing up for online banking where an online account will list all deposits and payments, tracking your balance automatically and set up automatic payments for your regular monthly bills and log on as needed to pay irregular and occasional ones.
Due to the impulsivity and disorganisation that often accompany ADHD, adults may struggle with erratic sleep, an unhealthy diet, or the effects of too little exercise—all issues that can lead to extra stress, bad moods, and feeling out of control.
Eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly can help to calm, minimise mood swings, and fight any symptoms of anxiety and depression. Healthier habits can also reduce ADHD symptoms including inattention, hyperactivity, and distractibility, while regular routines can help your life feel more manageable.
Sleep deprivation can increase symptoms of adult ADHD, reducing your ability to cope with stress and maintain focus during the day. Simple changes to daytime habits go a long way toward ensuring solid nightly sleep.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day.
- Exercise vigorously and regularly, but not within an hour of bedtime.
- Create a predictable and quiet “bedtime” routine, including taking a hot shower or bath just before bed.
- Stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on weekends.
While unhealthy eating habits don’t cause ADHD, a poor diet can exacerbate symptoms. By making simple changes in what and how you eat, you may experience big reductions in distractibility, hyperactivity, and stress levels.
- Eat small meals throughout the day.
- Avoid sugar and junk food as much as possible.
- Make sure you include healthy protein at every meal.
- Aim for several servings of fibre-rich whole grains each day.
Medication is a cornerstone of treatment for adults with ADHD. Research has shown that stimulants and some no stimulants can improve the symptoms of ADHD, helping people pay attention, concentrate, and control their impulses.
Most agencies recommend lisdexamfetamine or methylphenidate as first-line drug treatment for adults while Atomoxetine or Guanfacine are alternative options if they cannot tolerate lisdexamfetamine or methylphenidate, or their symptoms have not responded to either of these drugs.