Focusing on Possible Attention Deficit Disorder

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Reader’s Question

My question is how to fix the following, that I’ve become aware of: I have a tremendously hard time focusing on anything. My mind works as if I have ADD, in that my thoughts wander repeatedly to a subject I can’t even focus on enough to know what it is that my mind is wandering to. It takes tremendous amounts of concentration and repeated attempts just to retain any information I read, e.g. for my online college classes. I have to read an entire section anywhere from ten to thirty times in a day just to retain it in my own words, which sometimes aren’t even accurate. Most people I talk to retain the definitions to a T.

Is this more of a memory issue, focus issue, or both? Should I seek aid in the form of medication, or is there a way to train myself to overcome this?

Psychologist’s Reply

As defined by current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the DSM (which is the rule book for mental health diagnoses), Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) requires that you meet at least six of nine characteristics of Inattention and at least six of nine characteristics of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity (unless you have the Predominantly Inattentive Type). Characteristics of Inattention include things like difficulty in sustaining attention, being easily distracted, forgetfulness, not following through on instructions, and difficulty organizing tasks and activities. However, adults often display a wider range of symptoms. Characteristics of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity include things like talking excessively and often fidgeting with hands or feet. People who have ADD must show symptoms in two or more settings. However, memory problems like not being able to retain information aren’t specifically mentioned.

Thus, while it does sound like you are easily distracted and have difficulty with focus, there could be other issues at work besides ADHD (should you suffer from this disorder). Just as is true for children, the best way to discover what is going on is to be evaluated by a licensed psychologist who has experience with assessment. This person most likely will have you complete various psychological tests and then be able to tell you whether you have ADHD or other learning difficulties.

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Treatment for ADHD often involves medication, psychotherapy or both. Many adults report that taking medication to reduce their ADHD symptoms helps tremendously with focus, organization and memory retention. However, any medication must be taken with the approval of a physician. Psychotherapy can also be helpful, as a skilled professional can help you learn tips for organization, provide study skill strategies, aid in better impulse control and give generally useful ways to make your life easier. If memory is more of the issue, counseling can help with that too.

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