But that’s changing. Today, as more adults seek help for ADD symptoms and as more research is done exclusively on adults, doctors are refining their ideas about how ADD differs in adults and children. Here, Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., associate director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders at Yale University School of Medicine and author of Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults, helps to clarify what adult ADD is -- and is not.
Q: How do medicines for ADD work?
A: After those neurotransmitters are released to carry a message from one neuron to another, what hasn’t been used up of the chemical gets sucked back into the sending cell. In people with ADD, their brains suck it back in too fast. The medicine slows down that "suck it back in" function by fractions of a second, but it means you get a better connection. In addition to slowing down the suck-it-back-in function, some medicines also help the brain to release a little more of the chemical in the first place. The medicine does not put more chemicals in the brain; it helps the brain’s chemicals carry the messages from one neuron to another more effectively.
Q: How can adults who think they might have ADD find a doctor who is qualified to evaluate and diagnose them?
A: Some primary care doctors are up to date on ADD in adults. Others are not, but may be able to refer you to an expert in your area. Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder[(www.chadd.org] (CHADD) is a national organization with local chapters around the country, and their meetings and website are a good place to get information about resources and doctors in your area. If you live in or near a city with a teaching hospital, call up and ask, "Is there a clinic for adults with ADHD?" The Attention Deficit Disorder Association also has a physician referral service on their website. Diagnosis should include a physical exam to rule out medical problems, a thorough medical history and initial interview, use of adult ADD screening tests or questionnaires and screening for other mental health issues in addition to ADD.
Q: Can adult ADD be cured?A: Once diagnosed, most people with ADD can be successfully treated and their symptoms can improve. The medications help about eight out of 10 people who take them. Other strategies, including behavior therapy to improve organization and time-management skills, and good health habits like having a regular sleep schedule, eating well and exercising all can help adults with ADD to function better. Some adults with ADD also have coexisting problems such as anxiety or substance abuse issues. When those problems are addressed and treated, often the ADD symptoms improve, too.
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