Barbara Eddy is used to swiftly “spinning” from task to task, from tending to her twins, to her work, to her husband. It’s in her nature as someone diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder.
So she feels right at home in this fast and fragmented age of cell phones, Googling, and hand-held e-mail.
“Society is finally coming up to fitting me,” said Eddy, from Pasadena, Calif. “The world is coming up to be perfect for me.”
Any parent can be challenged by the pace of modern family life — the blur of dropping the kids off at tae kwon do, picking up dinner and doing catch-up work on the laptop. But it can present particular possibilities and challenges for adults with attention disorders. Some, like Eddy, can take to it.
But others, like her husband, she notes, lack a consistent way to maintain focus when jumping from task to task.
“It’s getting worse all the time,” said Melissa Thomasson, a psychologist who runs a support group. “Sometimes we see folks who could handle it through school perhaps, and through young adulthood,” she said. “And as they marry and they have children and they’re working and they’re handling so many things, they’re not able to hold it all together.”
Hallmarks of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can include a lack of focus and impulsiveness. It’s also known as attention deficit disorder (ADD), a term many adults use because they are not hyperactive. Adults with attention disorders describe having great stores of energy and creativity, but trouble focusing it.
Attention disorders are usually associated with children; many people assume they just “grow out of it.” But researchers say the conditions can persist into adulthood. Preliminary figures from a survey by Dr. Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School indicate adult ADHD affects about 4 percent of the population.
There’s no evidence our faster, more fragmented lifestyle results in more cases of attention disorders. But Dr. Arthur Robin, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at Wayne State University, said ADHD symptoms may create greater impairment in a technology-oriented, fast-paced society.
Adults with attention disorders typically find coping strategies to get through the days, things like keeping reminder lists or detailed planners. They often have a spouse handle the bills and keep track of birthdays. At work, they’ll have an office assistant mind the books.
New York City resident Anita Gold, who was diagnosed with the disorder, said she relied on a housekeeper and secretaries to cope when she was raising her children and working as a publishing executive. Eddy keeps color-coded notebooks keeping track of her family and professional lives.
But those strategies become harder in a dual-income family where both spouses are stretched for time. Thomasson notes that the proliferation of e-mail and hand-held communications devices has led to many workers essentially acting as their own secretaries.
Dr. Edward Hallowell, who has written books about ADHD, said a rapid-fire lifestyle can actually be a good thing for maybe half the people with attention disorders — such as Eddy — because they can easily shift from task to task.
“When they get stimulation they get adrenaline and adrenaline is nature’s own stimulant medication. Chemically, it’s very similar to Ritalin,” he said.
But everyone is different, and that same combination of one thing after another, day after day can overwhelm anyone, whether or not they have an attention disorder. Hallowell said time management, priority-setting and organization are more important than ever.
“If you’re not careful,” he said, “you can get lost in the thicket.”
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