More adults getting same diagnosis as a 4th-grade boy: They have ADHD

When we think of the typical person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a fidgety fourth-grade boy usually comes to mind.

A totally different type of patient is getting diagnosed more often these days – adult women.

“It’s painful, and the amount of damage that was done already by the time I was diagnosed. . .” said Shala Salois of Seekonk. She wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until she was in her 20s.

“Just to get out of the house in the morning became a daunting task,” added Salois. “As an adult I battled frustration. I always felt frustrated and that’s what ultimately led me to go get help.”

Boys are more often diagnosed in grade school because they’re more likely to be hyperactive.

Salois had symptoms that didn’t stand out as much, so she never got help as a child.

“I wasn’t a troublemaker, so I didn’t draw a lot of attention by teachers because I wasn’t a problem child, and I wasn’t failing.”

Dr. Timothy Scarella, a staff psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says ADHD “is something that happens during the course of the brain’s development, exactly why is unclear.”

Dr. Scarella says adult women are often diagnosed during perimenopause and menopause when ADHD traits can be exacerbated by lower estrogen levels.

“Hormonal fluctuations and major biological shifts are something that will affect that system, explained Dr. Scarella. “So that could be a woman who had an attentional problem, maybe diagnosed, maybe not, or a woman who didn’t.”

Three quarters of adults between the ages of 18-44 who are diagnosed with ADHD were never diagnosed in their youth. Among adults over the age of 60, that ratio shoots up to 100%.

“When I see adults who have ADHD who have not been diagnosed, it is often because, they are intelligent people who have had ways of compensating,” said Dr. Scarella.

But that meant dealing with symptoms like inability to focus, forgetfulness, interrupting others, and poor management.

“That can cause a lot of social anxiety, and so there can be a lot of effects on self-esteem, sense of self efficacy, and social interactions,” explained Dr. Scarella.

ADHD is considered a chronic condition without a cure. Dr. Scarella says the use of stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall are highly effective treatments.

“These are medicines that you’re taking every day but can have really dramatic effects on people’s impulsivity, people’s hyperactivity.”

Every day presents challenges for Salois, but she says medication and hospitalization helped get her life on track. “I can’t grow and change if I don’t take the risk and put myself out there to grow and to learn a new way to do things.”

She’s now focusing on raising her twins and advancing her career in financial services. She wants others who might be struggling to know there is hope.

“I would say be brave because you deserve to have a more comfortable life, and you deserve to know that you’re not broken.”

Dr. Scarella said it’s believed that ADHD can run in families but that a specific genetic link, and the reason why one person has it and nother doesn’t, hasn’t been determined.

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