University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Joseph Barrash, PhD
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Neurology
First Published: November 2000
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) is most frequently diagnosed in
children, but many adults must also learn how to come to grips with
"ADD impacts adults' lives more than is commonly believed," says
Dr .Joseph Barrash, research scientist at the University of Iowa
College of Medicine and clinical neuropsychologist at the UI
Hospitals and Clinics.
ADD is characterized by patterns of inattention, difficulty
organizing, careless mistakes, distractions, forgetfulness, excessive
talking, impatience, and restlessness. The cause of ADD is still
"There is reason to believe that biological causes in the brain
lead to this problem," Barrash says. "It's not the case that people
with ADD have a 'disease' but their capacity for maintaining focus
and concentration, as well as controlling their behavior and activity
level, is not as good as most people's."
For adults with ADD there are a variety of treatments that may not
be as effective as with children. "It's possible to use verbal
approaches with adults, who are more mature and motivated, hopefully,
to exercise control over their thought processes and behavior so they
can get along better in life," Barrash says.
The best approach for most adults with ADD is learning how to
develop strategies that help them compensate for longstanding
weaknesses in abilities such as organization, planning, focus. This
"problem-solving" approach is critically important for any individual
with ADD to function at their highest level--whether or not
medications are also helpful in reducing some symptoms.
"A good beginning for a person is to gain insight on the
particular problems that ADD causes in their life and determine what
they can do to minimize those problems," Barrash says. "Taking
responsibility keeps the person from feeling that someone or
something else, like medication, is the solution to problems
associated with ADD." Friends and family can help an adult with ADD
by supporting the individual in developing and sticking to the
strategies that will help them deal with the disorder.
Many adults may suspect they have ADD, since its symptoms are so
common and identifiable, but Barrash cautions people not to jump to
conclusions from media reports of the disorder. "There is no clear
dividing line between the 'normal' amount of attention and
'defective' attention," he says. Anxiety, stress, medication, or a
nutritional imbalance are all factors that may cause many of the same
symptoms seen in children with ADD.
What is important, however, is how to deal with the symptoms. "Diagnosing the
problem in itself doesn't really change anything most of the time," Barrash
says. "It's what the individual does, whether or not they have ADD, to modify
their approach to managing the many demands they have in their life that makes