For ADHD, We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
Okay, maybe we’re no longer living in a time when women are routinely locked up in mental asylums suffering from PMS, depression, menopause, or simply put there by a philandering husband who needed some freedom, but come a long way? Perhaps not. Especially when it comes to diagnosing adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
There are many reasons for this. One highly contributing factor, according to attention deficit disorder (ADD) coach Pete Quily and others, is that 90 percent of women experience the inattentive subtype of ADD. “Women are extremely underdiagnosed with ADD,” says Quily, “because a lot of people a) don’t think women have it; and b) you’re kind of lucky in a way to have the hyperactive, impulsive type because that means you’re more likely to get diagnosed. If you’ve got the inattentive subtype, which is 90 percent of women, you’re not acting out. They’re just tuning out, daydreaming, spacing out, they’re not bothering other people, and then they get missed.”
Other factors that particularly influence the manifestation of ADHD in women include hormonal changes throughout the lifespan, cultural and societal influences, and gender differences.
In addition, precious little research has been done in the area of women and ADHD. Dr. Lily Hechtman is an internationally recognized researcher in ADHD, and professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at McGill University and director of ADHD research in the division of child psychiatry. According to Hechtman and others, it’s all too easy to miss ADHD when the symptoms are mimicked by symptoms of many other conditions.
Menopause, depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and others can be confused for ADHD. Normal life changes such as coping with a new career, marriage or having children can all create challenges to organizational skills, and can also look like ADD symptoms when combined with the sleep deprivation that usually accompanies managing a new family, according to Quily.
Let’s examine some of these more closely.
Although we don’t have data for women with attention deficit disorder during the menopausal age range, says Hechtman, “what makes menopause so difficult to distinguish from ADHD, at least in its symptomatology, is that you’re getting the effects of two different things.” Hechtman says it’s important not to misinterpret the symptoms. She explains that menopause can bring on memory problems, organizational problems, anxiety, depression, cognitive and emotional issues, independent of ADHD. She explains that a woman’s ADHD can manifest the same symptoms, making the diagnosis in that age group even more challenging, “because you don’t know whether you’re dealing with someone with ADHD or if it’s just a group of menopausal symptoms.”
The way to differentiate ADHD from menopause alone, she says, “is to really get a good picture of that person before menopause ever started. And if they had no symptomatology of ADHD before menopause ever started, then what you’re dealing with is really just menopausal.”