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Lynda Gantt: What is Attention Deficit Disorder?
Maintaining Mental Fitness

Lynda Gantt: What is Attention Deficit Disorder?

Have you ever seen an adult’s attention wane when performing a task and then move on to another leaving the first task unfinished? Or, an adult who moves so quickly that he invariably knocks something over or comes to a decision prematurely?

When you are in a group, is there one person who seems to fidget and constantly move his body? Or, someone who fails to complete work assignments? These are some of the behaviors typical of people who suffer from either Attention Deficit Disorder [ADD] or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD]. It is easy to assess children who are inattentive or hyperactive because the behavior is so apparent, but this is not necessarily the case with adults.

ADHD is common in children and adults. It is believed to be a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by impulsivity, such as making snap decisions. With hyperactivity, children are always on the go and find it difficult to control their activity or sit quietly. Adults, just like children tend to fidget and are inattentive. Children cannot focus which interferes with learning or accomplishing a task.

It was not until 1987 that the term Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD] was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Until recently, ADHD was not recognized in adults.

We can see the outward behaviors of ADHD, but there are emotional consequences of the disorder. It is hard to imagine how much learning is missed by the overactive brain and body of a child.

Moreover, the emotional suffering a child with ADHD experiences can be enormous. They know they are different from other children. Additionally, they tend to experience more negative events in life which causes more emotional burdens.

There is a positive correlation between adverse experiences such as poverty, neglect, being institutionalized, or having abusive parenting and having a poor outcome in life. Children’s brains change when exposed to trauma. Recent research identified factors that influence the development of ADHD. These include maternal pre-pregnancy obesity, being overweight, having preeclampsia, acetaminophen exposure, and smoking during pregnancy.

To improve the quality of life for a child, a number of approaches need to take place. These should include a collaborative approach involving the medical doctor (for medication), teachers, school counselors and school psychologists, and any other caretakers. For adults, behavioral interventions and medication appear to work best, especially when anxiety is present. Overall, medication and behavioral interventions seem to help the most.

For anyone with ADHD, focusing on the whole person to identify and develop more self-knowledge, self-determination and self-choice are optimal goals for treatment. A stimulant medication can decrease hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. Additionally, there is increased mental alertness, wakefulness and increased concentration and a decrease in aggressive behavior.

Both children and adults also benefit from an improved sense of self-esteem when treated with appropriate medication and behavioral interventions. Initially, stimulants are prescribed at low doses then titrated up. These medications zero in on the neurotransmitter dopamine which is associated with attention, pleasure and movement. Stimulants block the reuptake of dopamine and noradrenaline so that the amount of dopamine at the neural synapse is increased. This is where dopamine can be most utilized.

However, there are some common side effects from the use of stimulants. These medications can cause a decrease in appetite and potential weight loss, insomnia, dry mouth and gastrointestinal upsets. There are also cardiovascular risks that should be reviewed carefully by the prescribing physician. Overall, side effects can be managed. Generally the benefits from proper treatment out-weigh any side effects. These medications offer so much benefit for anyone suffering with ADHD.

Dr. Lynda M. Gantt, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Maria.

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