Can women be diagnosed with ADHD later in life?

There have been a huge number of stories in the press and on social media about older women who have been diagnosed with ADHD later in life. In fact, I was diagnosed in my late 40’s. It was a complete surprise, because I was at the Doctors to discuss my daughter, he casually turned to me and said, “by the way, you have it too!”

Of course, ADHD diagnosis is generally on the increase, as we all become more educated about the symptoms. The TikTok tag #ADHD has 13 billion views and counting. The Attention Deficit Disorder Associations membership doubled between 2019 and 2020. The Centre for Disease Control have seen a 344% increase in women getting ADHD prescriptions between the age of 15 and 34. Clinical Partners, a UK mental care provider, has had 254,000 people taking its online ADHD test in 2021, compared to 7,000 in 2019.

An ADD or ADHD brain mainly have differences in their Prefrontal Cortex which controls attention and organisation and the Limbic system which regulates emotion and memories. ADHD brains have lower levels of Norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter associated with Dopamine levels. This provides an explanation as to why the usual nutrient reference values or NRV levels on vitamins etc, seem not to be therapeutic enough for ADHD brains.

So why is this happening?

ADHD knowledge has for decades, kept the term hyperactive at the middle of its stereotype and is the sort of ADHD that boys are often found to have. We are also learning that ADHD is a spectrum and so you don’t have to be jumping on the sofa 23hrs a day to have ADHD. Girls on the other hand tend to have inattentive ADD or a mix of both types, which is much more difficult for teachers to spot. It wasn’t until my daughter was 13 that she was diagnosed, despite being assessed by school and a psycologist because her IQ scores and her test scores were poles apart and she should have been doing better in school.

What behaviors would an ADD girl at school exhibit?

Girls with ADD inattentive would exhibit signs of daydreaming and struggle to focus, they find it hard to work in very noisy, busy environments, as they get sensory overload. They are often disorganised and find it difficult to remember instructions. They may be seen as naughty, lazy or talking too much. As a result, girls are normally older when teachers or parents notice these symptoms. Does this sound familiar?

Often girls find ways to hide their ADD to fit in with other girls, masking their symptoms by working extra hard in their own time. Girls are far more likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety, in their teenage years, where this could really be a symptom of their ADHD and their lack of ability to regulate their emotions.

If a girl has found her coping mechanism or masking skills in her teenage years, then as they rise through school and have options in what they learn, it can get easier, however the pressure escalates. I tend to think A levels are the start of things starting to improve. As our interest increases, its far easier to get into hyper focus. For me it was university, I chose Business Studies which I really enjoyed and then as an adult chose work that interested me. My daughter loves anything creative, so we found a sixth form college that would let her do what she wanted and organized her workload by cleverly scheduling assessments at different times so that my daughter didn’t became overwhelmed.

So, if we slip through the net and find jobs that interest us, and mechanisms to help us perform, then why do women stop coping in midlife?

There is no doubt that diagnosis of girls and knowledge about inattentive ADD is improving. When parents are having their children assessed, they often recognise the symptoms from their own school days and decide to be personally assessed, after all around 80% of ADHD is hereditary.

Alternatively, the menopause is a time of huge change for women, hormones and swings in mood and emotions are difficult for all, but when this is coupled with the emotional deregulation and low Dopamine of women with ADD, then the proverbial sh*t really does hit the fan, and older women need help as their symptoms are amplified by their ADHD.


Is there anything you can do to help manage ADHD in women?

Of course, there is medication, but there is also Cognitively Focus for those who would rather try a holistic approach. I have put together a recipe of the perfect ingredients for my ADHD daughter and at very strong levels based on the current research, so that it is all included in one drink per day. It helps with brain fog, memory, anxiety, depression, and stress. You will notice that these are also symptoms of the menopause, as the two conditions present clinically similar.

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