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Experts weigh in on whether ADHD is on the rise

Free Press - 4/21/2024

Apr. 21—It's tricky to diagnose, and too often people turn to social media for help rather than to experts.

But providers are noticing a trend: There's a rise in adult ADHD, or least a heightened awareness of it. Chiefly, what providers recommend, is that if you're concerned, you should see a mental health specialist.

"There's more adult patients who are asking about ADHD and the demand for evaluations is pretty high," said Kaia Scales, psychiatric health nurse practitioner at PrairieCare'sMankato location. "People are asking questions and wanting to get evaluated."

That's in part, she said, because of an increased frequency of the topic on social media.

And while childhood ADHD diagnoses have remained the same, diagnoses among adults are rising four times faster in comparison, Scales said.

"I have seen an increase and a rise in requests for assessments," said Lisa Hardesty, psychologist with Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

Dr. Danielle Magness-Wellmann of Mankato Clinic Department of Psychiatry, said she doesn't know if she'd say there's a rise in adult ADHD, but "we're becoming more aware of it, and as a result we're more likely to screen for it."

Her most important message for those who wonder if they suffer from the disorder is to get diagnosed by a specialist, either by a psychiatrist or a psychologist, versus during a 15-minute consultation with a primary care doctor. The disorder is too complicated for that, she said.

Sometimes her adult patients present with symptoms because they've reached a tough stage in life where they can't overcompensate. She's thinking of going to college, getting married or having kids.

They've long had ADHD, Magness-Wellmann said, but were able to get by. Scales agrees.

Scales said diagnosing adult ADHD requires an intensive interview and investigation. She might need to pull in a person's partner and/or parents to find out how far back their symptoms go.

"There's always a differential with patients coming in," she said. "Some have no clue."

ADHD is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, Scales said. She looks at a patient's ability to hold a job, academic history and whether they've had difficulty in relationships.

Hardesty said her job is to "pick it all apart." Is a patient reporting they can't focus on anything, but also devoting an unbelievable amount of time to social media? Perhaps that's the real issue.

"Someone comes in and states 'Oh my gosh, I cannot focus. I cannot pay attention,'" she said. "We worked on their consumption and use of their phone and worked on some meditation and some skill-based approaches to be better at paying attention and they did very well."

Another tricky element with adult ADHD is that it looks a lot like other disorders, said Magness-Wellmann. Some of those are generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, PTSD, substance use disorder, and even insomnia can be confused with adult ADHD.

Specialists can sort that out, she said.

"Once everything else is treated here, then we can say, 'Yep, maybe we do have that going on,'" Magness-Wellmann said.

More than 8 million adults have ADHD, she said, with three out of four not diagnosed during childhood. And only 20% of adults who have ADHD are diagnosed and treated.

"They may go undiagnosed for decades," she said. "They've learned how to cope with it."

"It's such a relief when you do diagnose it," Hardesty said. "They say, 'I've had this my entire life.' They're 30 years old and they're so excited when they can get some help."

As for how they're treated, meds are helpful, experts say, but aren't everything.

Support and understanding from family is key, as are physical activity and a good, healthy diet.


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