Adults find focus

October 26, 2005|By KRISTIN WILSON

In so many ways, Stefanie Evans' life has been shaped by a disorder that she didn't know she had.

Evans, 39, was diagnosed eight years ago with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Her diagnosis finally answered all the questions about the problems she had as a child and helped her understand issues she faced as an adult.

Evans is one of a growing number of adults found to have a disorder that was previously thought to only affect children. In recent years, the prevalence of adults being treated for ADHD has turned doctors' understanding of the disorder on its head.

In September, Medco Health Solutions Inc., a pharmacy benefit management company, released a study that tracked the number of adults between the ages of 20 to 44 taking ADHD drugs.


Medco researchers found that, between 2000 and 2004, the number of adults being treated for ADHD more than doubled. In 2004, about 1 percent of Americans between ages 20 and 44 were being treated for ADHD.

The reason for the increase is related to the evolution of psychiatric medicine and specifically ADHD research, says Dr. Garry Seligman, a psychiatrist with Behavioral Health Services of Washington County Hospital.

"Our understanding of this has been clarified by more research devoted to attentional problems," Seligman says. "They've been able to demonstrate that these attentional problems do in fact persist into adulthood."

It was previously believed that children "grow out" of ADHD, he says.

Common symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, impulsivity and an inability to focus. As children age, many who suffer from ADHD learn to control their hyperactivity and impulsive feelings. But that doesn't mean the disorder goes away, Seligman says.

Evans, officially diagnosed by Seligman eight years ago, is a classic case.

Throughout her 20s, Evans had a hard time controlling her impulses, especially when it came to spending. Keeping regular work and developing a career path was out of the question.

"Most jobs were six months, eight months. I just couldn't stick with them," she says. "I would lose interest so easily and get bored and that was the end of that."

She also had trouble focusing. When surrounded by multiple stimuli, like when having a telephone conversation with the television and radio on, she would have a hard time concentrating on just one thing.

But Evans also knew that her condition wasn't something that affected her only as an adult. When she was a child, "you could not keep me in the house," she remembers. "I was climbing trees and running around the neighborhood all the time. Very stubborn. It was very hard to focus on things."

In fact, Evans' parents took her to a child psychologist when she was 12 "because my parents didn't understand me," she says.

That was in 1978 and while the psychologists' report didn't find specify any problems, today she would have been diagnosed as a classic ADHD case, she says.

"If it didn't interest me, I couldn't even hope to focus," she remembers. "I could read a page 12 times and still have no idea what I read. Back then they would say, 'You're just not applying yourself.'"

Evans didn't know that adults could have ADHD until about 10 years ago, when her youngest daughter was diagnosed with the condition at age 5. Her relatives reminded Evans that she was just like her daughter when she was young. That spurred Evans to investigate whether she might have the same condition.

Today, Evans has discovered what countless other adults who live with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder know: There is life after ADHD.

She is taking medication and learning to control her impulses. She signed up to take psychology classes at Hagerstown Community College in order to understand her condition.

For the first time, Evans is sticking with a career and she loves it. For six years, she has been a cheerleading coach and now works at the Hagerstown YMCA.

"I love what I'm doing. I love working with the kids," Evans says. "I would definitely say that (life) is better."

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