Is it ADHD or anxiety? How adults are diagnosed

11:03 PM, Feb 20, 2013   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mi. -- We live in an over-stimulated society -- from multi-tasking to staying constantly connected through our smart phones, tablets and other electronic devices.

All of it can lead to an inability to concentrate on just one task at a time. So when is it a case of electronic over-stimulation and when is it a case of adult Attention Deficit Disorder?

For years, Bryan Houck had to go to extremes to complete a task. "The only way I could get school work or anything done was to drink a lot of caffeine and then just dig in. And I could do 7 hours worth of work in 2 or 3 hours. But then I was done. I couldn't't do anymore," says Houck.

The caffeine was a form of self-medication. Bryan was over-stimulating his brain to compensate for his attention issues. He lived this way for decades.

"I eventually, through the encouragement of others, went and got tested," says Houck.

Those tests confirmed he had ADD  About 8 million adults live with ADD or  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in which attention deficit symptoms are also accompanied by heightened activity levels and impulsiveness.

Because they are closely associated, sometimes the terms ADD and ADHD are used interchangeably. Bryan got help from medication. Within just a few days of starting his medication, Bryan says his life changed. He could finally enjoy simple things like sitting and playing with his son.

 "Once I had medication, I remember the first time I was able to just sit with him for an hour and enjoy that without having all this other stuff going on in my head. It was really wonderful," he recalls.

"The inability to just kind of be present and just be able to relax and sit still, but there is the constant energy and restlessness" is how Dr. Timothy Royer explains what it is like for adults who have ADD.  He specializes in helping adults with attention issues.

"When you are talking about ADHD, the most important thing is to make sure that's really where the symptoms are coming from. In our culture, it tends to be more anxiety, and an addiction to adrenaline. In our culture it's very difficult to learn how to be still," according to Dr. Royer.

In his practice he uses a diagnostic tool that tracks brain waves, and transmits measured levels to computer readout. The results help Royer determine whether someone is within the range of clinical attention issues, or whether something else may be causing focus and concentration problems.

He demonstrated how the test works on Kim Bode, who owns her own marketing firm. Multi-tasking, social media and deadlines keep Kim's braining going non-stop. She's wondered if she has ADHD. Tests revealed that she did not, but her brain was running slightly faster, not slower, as it would be with ADHD.

"There is something in your sleep wave cycle that's off that's producing these attention symptoms," Dr. Royer explains to Bode. But the fix sin't as simple as a good night's sleep or popping a pill.

Dr. Royer prescribes an exercise to get Bode's brain waves back in balance. While watching a video, Kim must keep her brain focused. Every time she loses concentration, the video stops. Dr. Royer says it will take about 9 sessions to see a change in her concentration.

For those not diagnosed with ADD but still suffering from attention problems, brain exercises and lifestyle changes can help strengthen focus.

"Is our culture increasingly having problems focusing, completing tasks and feeling like their mind is racing all the time? The answer is yes," Dr. Royer said. But that doesn't always mean that it's ADD.          

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