Does My Mother Show Signs of ADHD?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From the U.S.: My mother, age 85 and widowed, is physically healthy. But when I speak to her on the phone, she always bangs around pots and pans and all sorts of items, and answers me with little “hmm”s that tell me she isn’t really listening to me. This went on for about a year, and I finally got fed up and told her to stop what she was doing, sit down and pay attention to me. She said she couldn’t. I asked her why not, and suddenly, she let out a terrifying scream, like a primal scream, and yelled out, “I can’t stop, I can’t stop, I can’t stop!” and began crying hysterically. I was scared out of my wits. She cried for a while, then got back on the phone. I asked her if she might have ADHD. She knew what it was, but said she didn’t know if she had it. She was now exhausted and asked me to call later and hung up. But the behavior continues worse now. She knows it upsets me and even makes a point of calling me while banging pots and pans, just like before. What is going on? Does she have ADHD?

A: I don’t think she has ADHD. I do think you should take her to her doctor for a dementia screening. What you are describing is consistent with symptoms of early dementia. She told you she can’t stop because she can’t. She’s not out to torture you. She is unable to control her thoughts or behaviors. I’m sure it is even more distressing to her than it is to you.

Your mother needs to be treated by her doctor. There are medications that may temporarily improve symptoms. She also needs you to learn ways to compassionately support her. There are things you can do to help. Ask your doctor if there is a support group or workshop in your area to help caregivers learn how best to support a person with dementia.

I wish you both well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jul 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). Does My Mother Show Signs of ADHD?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/07/30/does-my-mother-show-signs-of-adhd/