Questions about whether or not ADHD can develop in midlife have been in the news recently, thanks to high profile midlifers who are sharing their experiences of later-in-life diagnosis. “I cried from the sweet relief at knowing the permanent overcrowded motorway that resides inside my head, where cars pile up and there’s no hard shoulder in sight, now has a name” said author Stacey Duguid about her diagnosis at 47, which she recently wrote about in her searingly honest book In Pursuit of Happiness: Mating, Marriage, Motherhood, Money, Mayhem. Meanwhile, Australian broadcaster Mia Freedman revealed on her Mamma Mia platform that she has been diagnosed aged 49. Midlife ADHD is now, finally, a much-discussed health topic. (If you’re interested in hearing more from Stacey, Hylda’s co founder Juliet had this brilliant Instagram Live conversation with her here about ADHD in midlife, and much more.)
What is ADHD?
This is something that our medical colleagues at My Menopause Centre define very clearly: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also sometimes referred to as attention deficit disorder (ADD) or hyperkinetic disorder (HKD), is a neurobiological disorder. A neurobiological disorder is an illness of the nervous system caused by genetic, environmental, or metabolic factors.
ADHD results in difficulties with inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. This condition does not affect intelligence in any way but life can become more challenging.
What does ADHD look like in a 50 year old woman?
We asked My Menopause Centre’s co founder and Clinical Director, Dr Clare Spencer, a GP and registered menopause specialist, to tell us about ADHD and the menopause.
“ADHD may be made worse by the menopause in that symptoms may be heightened or worsen,” says Dr Clare. “There may be additional stress, anxiety and/or depression that impacts on confidence and cognitive function. Difficulties with sleep and disturbed sleep can impact on resilience also.”
What about the low oestrogen of the menopause years, can that cause ADHD?
“Low oestrogen can cause similar symptoms to ADHD but low oestrogen is not the cause of symptoms of ADHD,” says Dr Clare. “Low oestrogen can result in cognitive changes from a direct impact of hormonal changes on the brain – and then add in other distracting symptoms of oestrogen deficiency of hot flushes and night sweats, heightened anxiety and low mood, aches and pains and poor sleep etc, and you can see the overlap in symptoms with ADHD.
“It’s important to distinguish between ADHD-like symptoms that are likely caused by stress, and ADHD itself, which has its own unique causes.”
What are the symptoms of ADHD in menopause?
“Symptoms of the menopause include cognitive changes including brain fog, poor memory and poor concentration,” explains Dr Clare. “There may be difficulties finding words and challenges with juggling and organising tasks because of a perceived lack of focus and concentration. These symptoms overlap with those of ADHD.
It’s important to distinguish between ADHD-like symptoms that are likely caused by stress, and ADHD itself, which has its own unique causes
“With ADHD there may be difficulties with planning, organising, managing time, prioritising tasks and making decisions. There may be inability to focus. You can therefore see the overlap and how symptoms of ADHD that women have been coping with and found strategies to manage, can worsen. This can lead to low mood and anxiety – also common symptoms of the menopause.
“So a woman in the menopause transition may have additional challenges which may add to stress and, in turn, worsen symptoms of the menopause and ADHD – symptoms may be more severe and may not improve at all with the use of hormone replacement therapy.
READ MORE What are the 34 menopause symptoms?
“ADHD may be made worse by the menopause in that symptoms may be heightened or worsen. There may be additional stress, anxiety and/or depression that impacts on confidence and cognitive function. Difficulties with sleep and disturbed sleep can impact on resilience also.”
What are the coping skills for ADHD?
According to My Menopause Centre, after a diagnosis has been made, treatment can be started, usually initiated by a specialist. This typically involves a combination of medication and/or therapy. There are a number of different medications that can be initiated by specialists – for more information on medication see here.
A woman in the menopause transition may have additional challenges which may add to stress and, in turn, worsen symptoms of the menopause and ADHD
Different talking therapies can help manage symptoms of ADHD and help teach behaviours and social skills if needed. Lifestyle changes in diet and exercise can be helpful for some in helping manage symptoms.
Managing other symptoms of the menopause may alleviate the pressure and there are many options, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT), to help.
If you are concerned that you have ADHD, speak to your GP or healthcare practitioner about a referral to a specialist. If you chose to pay to see a private provider – like My Menopause Centre – you may not need a referral.
Free Event: Navigating ADHD in the Menopause, October 5, 7pm UK Time.
My Menopause Centre has a free event Navigating ADHD in the Menopause, on October 5 at 7pm UK time. Dr Clare Spencer will be discussing the symptoms, diagnosis and management of ADHD with Dr Rob Baskind, a psychiatrist with a wealth of experience working in adult ADHD and mental health care.
They’ll discuss many facets of this important conversation including how the menopause transition impacts women with ADHD, discovering you have ADHD later in life as well as the treatment options available.
Head to My Menopause Centre to read more on ADHD in the menopause years and to find out about their online clinic services to support you with all of your menopause health and wellbeing needs.