Fidgety, impulsive, easily distracted? Well, who isn't at some time or other? Still, for one in 10 of us these traits aren't transitory, but entrenched. Sort of like the difference between having the blues and being clinically depressed. Those who persistently struggle to maintain their focus are said to have "attention deficit with or without hyperactivity' or AD/HD, as it's now called.
Unlike depression, AD/HD has its upside, and is associated with mental quickness, big-picture thinking, good problem-solving talents, creativity and the capacity for gathering a lot of information. The downside, though, is an inability to structure one's life and thinking to move projects forward in a coherent way.
As with mental/emotional conditions in general, there's a big split in the health care community about treatment, with the allopaths basically on the side of pharmaceuticals, especially Ritalin, and holistic types focused on nutrition and body work. If you suspect AD/HD, your first step is professional diagnosis, since a lot of other conditions can mimic it. Then explore your treatment options.
What the experts say
"Systems to help organize time, tasks and ideas are essential for someone who struggles with issues like these. I suggest things like Palm Pilots with alarms to help with time management. (I help clients) set up special places in the house where keys are put and drop zones for library books, exercise bags, etc. These things are beneficial for everyone, but they're absolutely essential for an AD/HDer. I teach people strategies for slowing down their reactions and basing their choices on the consequences of their behaviour, so they go from being reactive to being proactive."
BARBARA DURST, professional certified coach, AD/HD coach
"AD/HD is a dysfunction of the brain's frontal lobes, which deal with attention, judgment, planning, organization, time management, impulse control and the ability to achieve goals. Many people will tell you it's totally genetic. We find that there are other factors, such as birth traumas and infections of the membrane system around the brain. You have to correct the dysfunction of the bones -- the skull does have a mobility mechanism -- and treat the membranes if they're not pliable and soft. And we treat the arteries to try to maximize blood flow to the frontal lobes.'
ANN BERNARD, occupational therapist, craniosacral therapist
"Nutritional therapy doesn't work for everyone with AD/HD, but it does work for at least half the people with this condition. With serious AD/HD, some people will not respond, I suspect because they can't stay on the diet. A lot of people have clouded memory and foggy thinking because they're eating things to which they're allergic. People who try a hypoallergenic diet -- no dairy, gluten, sugar, chemical additives, hydrogenated oil, coffee, tea or alcohol, eating as many organics as possible -- and get no benefit after three weeks should see a psychiatrist."
ZOLTAN RONA, MD, MSc
"You have to distinguish AD/HD from substance abuse, mood disorders and psychotic disorders. It's pretty difficult to diagnose in an adult. The studies on nutrition haven't been replicated, and I don't see yet any relevance to clinical practice. I see patients with a wide variety of disorders, from schizophrenia to anxiety to depression, who believe craniosacral therapy helps them. But it's too non-specific for me to believe that there's any single cause for all of these conditions and that the treatment is specific to any one condition. I see craniosacral as being a general support and a placebo effect."
BRIAN HOFFMAN, chief of psychiatry, North York General Hospital, associate professor of psychiatry, U of T
"Sometimes a simple mineral deficiency like of magnesium might be responsible for AD/HD. Magnesium deficiency is characterized by restlessness, agitation, psychomotor instability, sleep problems, anxiety, muscle tension -- things that mimic AD/HD. Zinc seems to enhance the effects of conventional drugs for AD/HD and enables people to reduce their dose. Essential fatty acids are very helpful. Adding more fruits and vegetables and reducing refined sugars and saturated fats can reduce symptoms."
JONATHAN PROUSKY, naturopath, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine
"I worry about the self-esteem of individuals with (these disorders), because there is so much negative attention and criticism. So I really emphasize education and support. A lot of adults with AD/HD aren't proactive in dealing with it because when they were growing up there wasn't much attention paid to it. They're trying to manage their lives and don't place a lot of emphasis on managing their AD/HD. It's very easy to say, 'You know what? I'm busy, I don't have time.' But once you understand it, it's much easier to deal with the symptoms."
SUSAN LIEBERMAN, family therapist, provider of AD/HD assessments