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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

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