If you read this blog regularly, you know that I do like a good scientific study on ADHD. And one of my favorite kinds of studies is where psychologists simply go out and ask people with ADHD about their experiences.
Today brings us a nice example of that kind of study. Researchers in Sweden interviewed ten people with ADHD over the age of 50, asking them about life with ADHD and looking for patterns in their responses.
Specifically, participants were asked: “Could you please share openly what it is like to live with ADHD at your current age?”
The researchers found several commonalities in people’s responses. For example:
They felt sad that had suffered for so many years without help or a good understanding of why or how to cope. Feelings of restlessness and lack of impulse control created problems in their social life. A sense of relief was found when functional strategies were identified. They felt alone by choice or forced into loneliness. Excessive intake of alcohol, food, and drugs were also revealed as well as other physical and mental problem areas. Major problem areas were forgetfulness, uncontrollable racing thoughts, difficulties with time management and an inability to focus on tasks. Informants with creative work, challenging tasks, a work situation with changing locations, and late work hours seemed to have less work-related problems than others. Protective factors seemed to be having an understanding family, friends who stayed no matter what, work with suitable structures, and coworkers who understood.
Right away, a lot of that will probably sound familiar to adults with ADHD of any age, not just those over 50.
One thing that stands out to me is how much environmental factors seemed to affect how people coped with ADHD. In particular, things like having a stimulating job and supportive friends were identified as providing a buffer against some of ADHD’s negative effects. The takeaway there might be that some of the most effective coping strategies involve changing your environment, not changing yourself.
Indeed, one of the overarching themes that the researchers identified was “developing strategies to handle the difficulties of being different.”
These strategies included things like using exercise to cope with restlessness, eating and sleeping on a fixed schedule, shopping early in the morning to avoid having to wait, and seeking out structure. Above all, finding strategies that worked meant experimenting and being persistent. As one interviewee put it:
I didn’t fail 10,000 times, I simply found 10,000 ways that don’t work. I’ll never give up, I’ll find a solution. That’s my strategy.
Of course, as the authors of the study point out, “having strategies did not eliminate the difficulties, it simply made them easier to manage.”
Indeed, the people interviewed described problems across all aspects of their lives. They struggled to control their impulses, and rushed into major life decisions. They often failed to effectively divide their energy between different demands in everyday life. They had trouble adjusting to social situations, maintaining finances, completing school, and navigating the work world. And they put a disproportionate amount of effort into trying to seem more like other people.
Putting those tendencies together led the researchers to suggest one overarching theme for life with ADHD, which they ultimately summarized as: being different but striving to seem normal.
I’ve mentioned a few points from the study that I found interesting, but the whole paper is worth a read or a skim if you’re interested in this kind of stuff. I’d also be interested to hear any thoughts you have below!