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Attention Deficits At Work

We have all heard about chil­dren who have Atten­tion Deficit/Hyperactivity Dis­or­der (AD/HD). Indeed, this con­di­tion seems to affect 5 to 8% of school age chil­dren. Have you ever won­dered what hap­pen to these chil­dren? As many as 60% of them become adults pre­sent­ing AD/HD symp­toms! Ron de Graaf and col­leagues recently pub­lished a study in which they found that an aver­age of 3.5% of work­ers (in ten coun­tries) meet the cri­te­ria for adult ADHD. As you can imag­ine, being an adult with AD/HD can be a chal­lenge at work.

Before we explore this issue let’s start by describ­ing the symp­toms of ADHD.

What is adult AD/HD?

AD/HD is a dis­or­der of the brain. Research clearly indi­cates that AD/HD is to a large extent genetic, that is it tends to run in fam­i­lies. How­ever, AD/HD is a com­plex dis­or­der and other causal fac­tors may be at play.

Typ­i­cally, the symp­toms arise in early child­hood, unless they are asso­ci­ated with some type of brain injury later in life. Some peo­ple have mild AD/HD with only a few symp­toms while oth­ers have more seri­ous AD/HD with more symptoms.

Symp­toms of inat­ten­tion (adapted from the DSM-IV)

* Fails to pay atten­tion to details
* Has dif­fi­culty sus­tain­ing atten­tion
* Does not appear to lis­ten
* Strug­gles to fol­low through on instruc­tions
* Has dif­fi­culty with orga­ni­za­tion
* Avoids or dis­likes tasks requir­ing sus­tained men­tal effort
* Loses things
* Is eas­ily dis­tracted
* Is for­get­ful in daily activities

Symp­toms of hyperactivity-impulsivity (adapted from the DSM-IV)

* Fid­gets with hands or feet or squirms in chair
* Has dif­fi­culty remain­ing seated
* Dif­fi­culty engag­ing in activ­i­ties qui­etly
* Acts as if dri­ven by a motor
* Talks exces­sively
* Blurts out answers before ques­tions have been com­pleted
* Dif­fi­culty wait­ing or tak­ing turns
* Inter­rupts or intrudes upon others

Before you start think­ing I knew it! I have AD/HD.

One must have seri­ous symp­toms in dif­fer­ent areas of his or her life (for exam­ple, do the symp­toms make it dif­fi­cult to do one´s job or cause prob­lems in one´s rela­tion­ships?) to be diag­nosed with AD/HD. If you have a num­ber of symp­toms, but none are seri­ous, you won’t be diag­nosed with AD/HD.

How does AD/HD affect per­for­mance at work?

Ron de Graaf and col­leagues recently screened for AD/HD 7,075 18–44 year-old work­ers in 10 coun­tries (Bel­gium, Colum­bia, France, Ger­many, Italy, Lebanon, Mex­ico, the Nether­lands, Spain, and the United States). This was done in ten national sur­veys in the WHO World Men­tal Health (WMH) Sur­vey Ini­tia­tive (link to study below).
As men­tioned ear­lier, 3.5% of these work­ers turned out to have AD/HD. Most of them were undi­ag­nosed and thus untreated. In the US, the per­cent­age increased to 4.5%. ADHD was more com­mon among men than women and more com­mon in devel­oped than devel­op­ing coun­tries. Let’s think about the AD/HD symp­toms and how they could inter­fere with work:Distractibility or inattention

= Dif­fi­culty to ignore exter­nal dis­trac­tions, such as peo­ple talk­ing or mov­ing
= Dif­fi­culty to ignore inter­nal dis­trac­tion (thoughts), which may lead to day­dream­ing
= Dif­fi­culty man­ag­ing com­plex or long-term projects
= Dif­fi­culty to find impor­tant papers and to turn in reports on time, which can cre­ate the impres­sion of care­less­ness
= Poor mem­ory result­ing from poor attention

Hyper­ac­tiv­ity and Impulsivity

= Dif­fi­culty to stay still dur­ing meet­ings
= Tem­per out­bursts
= Dif­fi­culty to lis­ten, ten­dency to inter­rupt, etc, which may cause inter­per­sonal issues

Evi­dently, AD/HD symp­tom can indeed inter­fere with work.

Ron de Graaf and col­leagues found that work­ers with AD/HD spent more than 22 fewer “role per­for­mance” days per year (includ­ing 8.7 days absent) work­ing com­pared with non-AD/HD work­ers. AD/HD work­ers said they could not carry out their rou­tine tasks.

Fur­ther­more, com­pared to women with­out AD/HD, women diag­nosed with AD/HD in adult­hood were found to be more likely to have depres­sive symp­toms, be more stressed and anx­ious, and have lower self-esteem.

What can adults do if they think they present AD/HD symptoms?

They should see a doc­tor to seek diag­nos­tic and take appro­pri­ate med­ica­tions. Per­haps try to struc­ture and orga­nize their envi­ron­ment dif­fer­ently to help cope with the chal­lenges. Per­haps find lit­tle ways to grad­u­ally train attention.

In any case, this is an impor­tant mat­ter, for employ­ees, and for companies.

Pascale Michelon— This arti­cle was writ­ten by Pas­cale Mich­e­lon, Ph. D., for Dr. Mich­e­lon, Copy­right 2008. Dr. Mich­e­lon has a Ph.D. in Cog­ni­tive Psy­chol­ogy and has worked as a Research Sci­en­tist at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in Saint Louis, in the Psy­chol­ogy Depart­ment. She con­ducted sev­eral research projects to under­stand how the brain makes use of visual infor­ma­tion and mem­o­rizes facts. She is now an Adjunct Fac­ulty at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity, and teaches Mem­ory Work­shops in numer­ous retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties in the St Louis area.

Fur­ther reading:

- Link to the cita­tion and study: Here.

- Promis­ing Cog­ni­tive Train­ing Stud­ies for ADHD.

- Mind­ful­ness Med­i­ta­tion for Adults & Teens with ADHD.

- Work­ing Mem­ory Train­ing for Adults.

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6 Responses

  1. Mary Lummerding says:

    This col­umn misses an impor­tant part of being ADHD: the enter­tainer, the ideas per­son. ADHD can be a very pos­i­tive thing. They think out­side of the box. They stim­u­late the rest of us. They can find jobs to suit them instead of try­ing to adapt to an unsuit­able job.
    They don’t need med­i­cine unless they are try­ing to con­form. They can exer­cise to work off excess energy. Employ­ers should offer gym facil­i­ties or encour­age exer­cise.
    My expe­ri­ence is from being mar­ried to one and rais­ing another, who is 19 yrs old.

  2. Alvaro says:

    Hello Mary: I´d say both Yes and No. Yes in that every per­son has cog­ni­tive strengths and weak­nesses, and we can both improve on the lat­ter while cel­e­brate the former.

    No in that ADD/ADHD is a seri­ous con­di­tion that mer­its inter­ven­tion to help the live and work of the per­son involved. Some­times I get the impres­sions that 50% of adults would say they have atten­tion deficit when, as indi­cated above, it may range around 3–5%. I have seen no research indi­cat­ing that being diag­nosed with ADHD makes one more cre­ative or have more energy. We may be mix­ing things.

  3. Dr Antonio Méndez Pérez says:

    We are think­ing about an study of two groups of work­ers to obtain if there is a direct rela­tion between work acci­dent and DDA.

  4. Dr Antonio Méndez Pérez says:

    What is the test you think we must use in this study.?
    One group will be work­ers with­out accidents,the other work­ers with mul­ti­ple events per year.
    The per­son that make the test dont know the group that the worker is included.

  5. Alvaro says:

    Dr. Mendez Perez, I will send you an email to see how we can help. Un saludo

  6. […] Q: Does brain research offer guid­ance on how we, human beings after all, can accom­plish all these things? — Madeleine: First, you need to use your very human brain. Learn when to Think and when to Blink, Mal­colm Glad­well notwith­stand­ing. We do dumb things because our minds work for us 80 or 90 per­cent of the time. But the rest of the time they work against us: they cre­ate blind spots that trip us up. — Alvaro: Then, aren’t “tal­ent” and “human cap­i­tal” really all about brain fit­ness and cog­ni­tive per­for­mance? learn more about how to main­tain your brain in top shape with this book­let by the Dana Alliance and The Con­fer­ence Board. — Pas­cale: Finally, are you aware of the impli­ca­tions of atten­tion deficits at work? A recent study showed that that work­ers with atten­tion deficits spent more than 22 fewer “role per­for­mance” days per year (includ­ing 8.7 days absent) work­ing. Can HR play a role here? […]

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