ADHD: Suffering in Silence: Women With Adult ADHD (cont.)

As girls become women and take on more responsibilities, the stakes grow higher, even without ADHD. Many of today's women are expected to not only work, but also take care of the house and children.

The average woman is already doing more, says Terry Matlen, MSW, author of Survival Tips For Women with ADHD: Beyond Piles, Palms, and Post-its. She says, "If you add the burden of ADHD symptoms -- getting overwhelmed, being forgetful, being hyperactive, or being disorganized -- to deal with that, on top of taking care of children... plus being a wife and handling a job, it's just more than one can imagine."

Instead of recognizing the adult ADHD factor, however, many women and their families see their difficulties as merely a part of the stress of modern-day living. Other factors that can aggravate ADHD symptoms and potentially throw women off the ADHD trail include:

  • Hormonal fluctuations. Symptoms of adult ADHD could tax already challenged minds and bodies. Women with PMS, for example, can already be oversensitive and irritable. For women with perimenopause, Matlen says it's not unusual to already have some trouble with memory, cognitive skills, and word retrieval. Then there's also the emotional rollercoaster that often accompanies pregnancy and post-partum depression. The drastic changes in hormone levels could certainly wreak havoc with mental health and well-being. Add ADHD to the mix, and the burden could certainly become greater.
  • Iron deficiency due to menstruation. Research has shown that mild iron deficiency, as experienced by some females, could affect cognitive skills, says L. Eugene Arnold, MD, a child psychiatrist and author of A Family Guide to ADHD. Coupled with the symptoms of ADHD, iron deficiency could become a significant challenge.
  • Other mental disorders. As many as two-thirds of children with ADHD have at least one co-existing condition, according to Children and Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), an advocacy group. Depression and anxiety are common ailments experienced by people with ADHD. They also tend to be more prevalent in women in general.
  • Personal problems. Girls and women who have been physically abused, or those who have not had good role models for things such as motherhood and organization could exhibit ADHD-like symptoms. These, and other personal factors, could complicate the identification of the disorder.

Many girls and women are, indeed, missed in diagnosis of ADHD because other problems have the same symptoms. ADHD could also aggravate symptoms of other ailments. But symptoms of ADHD may not necessarily go away with treatment of other conditions.

Relieving the Burden of Adult ADHD

Like most patients, Dale takes a stimulant to help manage her adult ADHD. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to manage her alcohol and drug abuse, and has seen a psychiatrist to work on her low self-esteem. To further her recovery, Dale joined CHADD's support network.

All of Dale's efforts have paid off. Now, the 41-year-old Hillsboro, Ore., resident feels better about herself. She also says she is a much better mother to her two children. Before treatment, she says there were many times when she unknowingly put her kids in harm's way. While driving with her boys, for instance, she used to pay attention to everything else but the road. While cooking a dish on the stove, she would wander off outside and get lost while her young kids were in the house.

"Once I got medicated and learned some behavioral skills for myself, I realized how much safer my children are," says Dale.

Could ADHD be Affecting Your Life?

Medication is standard treatment for all ADHD patients. Some psychological counseling is also advised to help adult ADHD patients learn more about the disorder and how to cope with it. Beyond these therapies, there are a host of other resources to help people with their disorder and problems related to it.

For women with adult ADHD, certain strategies may be more helpful than others. Quinn says women tend to work well with support groups and ADHD coaches. Matlen says hiring a babysitter, a housekeeper, or a tutor for kids could do wonders for a mother and wife with ADHD.

Russell Barkley, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, says there are no special remedies for women with adult ADHD. He says the disorder has an equally great impact on men and women. Both sexes, he says, will have difficulties with memory, driving, school, the workplace, handling substances, regulating feelings, and managing lifestyle factors such as weight.

"Both of them are going to suffer in these domains," says Barkley, noting the differential impact will be in what people choose to emphasize in their lives. Since many women place a premium on their homes, children, and social relationships, those areas of their lives will likely suffer. For many men, the emphasis is on their jobs and moneymaking, areas that will likely suffer. Of course, the roles could be reversed. Many of today's women value their careers, and many men manage household responsibilities.

Initial treatment for all patients is going to be the same, says Barkley, referring to medication and psychological counseling. Where it may be different will be in the secondary treatments, depending on which domains have the most negative impact.

"Women are more likely to have anxiety and depression so you may see physicians adding antianxiety and antidepressant drugs more often for their female patients," says Barkley. "The guys, on the other hand, you may see much more advice about vocational assessment, time management counseling, and working with an organizational specialist."

Women who suspect they may have adult ADHD are encouraged to visit their doctor. Many mothers have found out they have the disorder after their kids were diagnosed with it. Parents of children with ADHD have a two to eight times increase in risk for ADHD, says Marc Atkins, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He also cites research that shows almost 80% of ADHD is attributable to genetic factors.

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