Adult attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is far more common that previously thought, according to a recent study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry – though it’s often undiagnosed.
There’s been a recent rise in the number of adults diagnosed with ADHD, which was previously considered extremely rare. More recently, researchers have estimated that between 2 and 5% of the population struggles with the condition. And the new study suggests adult ADHD may be even more common than that.
Researchers attribute the rising rates at least in part to the fact that we weren’t doing a great job of detecting ADHD in adults before now.
In order to better diagnose cases, the researchers behind the study developed a new list of questions to help doctors screen for adult ADHD. The questions are designed based on the most recent definition of the condition as it’s described in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), sometimes referred to as psychiatry’s “Bible.”
Here are the questions that researchers say can reliably and easily find adult ADHD cases:
1. How often do you have difficulty concentrating on what people say to you, even when they are speaking to you directly?
2. How often do you leave your seat in meetings or other situations in which you are expected to remain seated?
3. How often do you have difficulty unwinding and relaxing when you have time to yourself?
4. When you’re in a conversation, how often do you find yourself finishing the sentences of the people you are talking to before they can finish them themselves?
5. How often do you put things off until the last minute?
6. How often do you depend on others to keep your life in order and attend to details?
Each question can be answered with “never, rarely, sometimes, often, and very often.” Answers can be converted to a numerical score that researchers use to screen for ADHD (Not all questions have the same value. A physician should be the one to make a diagnosis and to decide whether further evaluation or medication is needed).
In the process of developing and testing the scale, the authors say that they estimated that 8.2% of adults are affected by adult ADHD. They calculated this by having several clinical interviewers assess respondents’ answers to several health surveys using the DSM-5 definition of ADHD.
The new questionnaire isn’t a pure measure of ADHD symptoms, according to a commentary published alongside the study in JAMA Psychiatry. Two of the questions have more to do with procrastination and the ability to keep your life in order on your own, which aren’t official ADHD traits. But the authors of the study say these traits help predict the condition in adults better than some of the defined symptoms of ADHD.
The commentary authors say that these findings help reflect the fact that we still base the criteria for ADHD largely on what we expect to see in children, which means the current definition may still be inadequate for identifying adult ADHD. That could help explain why the researchers think there are still a significant number of people out there with the condition that have yet to be diagnosed.