Treating ADHD in adults

August 24, 2010 3:07:13 PM PDT
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is most often associated with children, but many adults get diagnosed later in life.

A new study reveals which treatments work to improve symptoms.

It's estimated that in adults about 4 or 5 out of every 100 suffer from ADHD.

These adults struggle with ongoing difficulties at work, in relationships or with life in general.

Medication, when it is prescribed, has limitations. Now, a new study says that using cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, along with the medication can improve the treatment and help to maintain the improvement over time.

Brian Harrington, diagnosed with ADHD, was suffering the stress resulting from the symptoms of the disorder. Among them - avoidance and inattention to daily tasks. But he's now learning to deal with things better.

"I have to be responsible for doing it and I also have to be responsible for what I put down," he said.

Brian is receiving cognitive behavioral therapy, which is helping him break down many hard to do tasks into smaller workable pieces.

"Medications don't do everything. They turn the volume down on symptoms, but they don't teach people skills to manage their symptoms," Steven A. Safren, PhD. said

Dr. Safren and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a randomized study with 86 people who had ADHD and were being treated with medications.

By adding the therapy, they targeted difficulties like organizing and planning. They helped patients maintain a calendar and a task list system, and select an action plan. They also taught them skills to cope with distractibility.

"We found a 67 percent response rate to people who got the CBT condition or the cognitive behavioral therapy condition compared to only a 33 percent response rate to people who got the control condition which was relaxation and educational support," Dr. Safren explained.

Brian says it has eased the stress on his life.

"It really did give me the tools to understand myself, my strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly being a more effective employee and happier guy," he said.

The study is published in tomorrow's journal of the American Medical Association. This is one of the first studies every published to show that such a treatment can help patients. The treatment is available in a published workbook for therapists and patients and includes about 12 sessions.