Have Trouble Focusing as an Adult? It May Be Undiagnosed ADHD

By Patti Neighmond

ADHD in AdultsTrouble focusing and staying on track as an adult may be symptoms of ADHD. This article mentions how this surprising condition may be the culprit behind the inability to focus, completing tasks, and paying attention.

When Cathy Fields was in her late 50s, she noticed she was having trouble following conversations with friends.

“I could sense something was wrong with me,” she says. “I couldn’t focus. I could not follow.”

Fields was worried she had suffered a stroke or was showing signs of early dementia. Instead she found out she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Fields is now 66 years old and lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. She’s a former secretary and mother of two grown children. Fields was diagnosed with ADHD about eight years ago. Her doctor ruled out any physical problems and suggested she see a psychiatrist. She went to Dr. David Goodman at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who by chance specializes in ADHD.

Goodman asked Fields a number of questions about focus, attention and completing tasks. He asked her about her childhood and how she did in school. Since ADHD begins in childhood, it’s important for mental health professionals to understand these childhood experiences in order to make an accurate diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood. Online screening tests are available, too, so you can try it yourself.

Goodman decided that Fields most definitely had ADHD.

She’s not alone. Goodman says he’s seeing more and more adults over the age of 50 newly diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder occurs as the brain is developing, and symptoms generally appear around age 7. But symptoms can last a lifetime. For adults, the problem is not disruptive behavior or keeping up in school. It’s an inability to focus, which can mean inconsistency, being late to meetings or just having problems managing day-to-day tasks. Adults with ADHD are more likely than others to lose a job or file for bankruptcy, Goodman says. They may overpay bills, or underpay them. They may pay bills late, or not at all.

For Cathy Fields, the more she thought about it, the more she realized distraction and the inability to focus was the story of her life. It was also the story of her mother’s life. Her mother “never got things done,” Fields says.

This is typical, according to Goodman; ADHD often runs in families. According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, an advocacy group, the disorder can be inherited. If a parent has ADHD, the child has more than a 50 percent chance of also having it. If a twin has ADHD, the other twin has up to an 80 percent chance of having the disorder.

But because many of today’s older adults grew up during the 1950s and ’60s when there wasn’t much awareness of ADHD, many were never diagnosed. And increasingly, Goodman says, he’s seeing more and more patients who are concerned about dementia but who actually have ADHD — just like Cathy Fields.

Goodman also sees patients who are diagnosed after their child or grandchild gets a diagnosis. “That’s the genetic link,” says Goodman, “from Grandmom to Mom to daughter.”

About 60 percent of children with ADHD go on to become adults with ADHD, says Dr. Lenard Adler, a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. As these older adults weren’t diagnosed, they learned to work around the problem, Adler says. They developed coping systems to deal with their inability to focus or pay attention. Read more…

Source: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/18/462978127/cant-focus-it-might-be-undiagnosed-adult-adhd

Related Continuing Education Courses

Section I of this course involves a detailed discussion of the many ways that a lifetime of ADHD can affect a person’s life. This is important information for all clinicians working with adults who have ADHD, partly for their own understanding, but also to help clients understand their own ADHD. It will include descriptions of situations that can obscure ADHD and will highlight the executive, academic, occupational, psychological, and social aspects of adult functioning that are impacted by ADHD. The second section involves educating clients about the many ways that ADHD has affected their life trajectories. This goes beyond the obvious academic difficulties and includes current functioning as well, offering less pejorative explanations for their weaknesses. Included are techniques for involving family members, creating an ADHD-friendly lifestyle, and finding a better fit in the classroom and the workplace. This education is a crucial first step in the treatment of ADHD in adults and builds the foundation for medication, coaching, and therapy.


This introductory course, from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), gives a brief update on the various facets of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It details the core symptoms, including behavioral manifestations of each, notes what is known about its causes, and lists the components of a comprehensive diagnostic protocol. It also describes a multifaceted treatment approach that includes combined medication, psychotherapy, and behavioral therapy. The course includes sections on comorbid disorders, dealing with ADHD at school, and treating it in teens and adults.


Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists; by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) to offer home study continuing education for NCCs (#5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB #1046, ACE Program); the Florida Boards of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling (#BAP346) and Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).