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Article in Daily Mail - 2003
Are you paying attention?
by CHARLOTTE HARDING, femail.co.uk 19:38pm 12th May 2003
Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is usually associated with hyperactive young boys but thousands of women are also secret sufferers. The link at the bottom of the page will tell you if you could be among them.
As a busy mother-of-three Caroline Hensey used to think her chaotic lifestyle was normal.
So many things seemed to constantly demand her attention that she'd often start a household job, become distracted, then forget to complete it.
Her life seemed so packed with things to do that she'd arrange to phone a friend, then find it completely slipped her mind. When she was on the phone, she found herself distracted from the call by background noises - perhaps her children talking in the background or an item on the evening news.
Life seemed overwhelming. But she 'got on' with it, believing she was just coping badly. She was wrong.
In fact she was just one of what is believed to be many thousands of women in Britain secretly suffering from attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD.)
The condition has long been associated with young boys, whose symptoms are typically hyperactive or aggressive behaviour.
But a report by the US National Institute of Mental Health in 1999 shockingly revealed that the condition affects both sexes equally.
And it has recently been discovered that many female sufferers have gone undiagnosed for years because rather than displaying the symptoms of hyperactivity typically associated with the condition women and girls with the illness are more likely to be polite, dreamy and quiet.
Caroline, 40, was only diagnosed four years ago when she sought help for her son who was displaying all the typical signs of ADHD. 'When we began to research the condition I realised that I had been suffering many of the symptoms myself since I was a child,' she says.
'I always felt different to my classmates as I couldn't concentrate on things for long enough. We would be sat in the classroom listening to the teacher and the smallest thing like a bird flying past the window would distract me. By the time I had focussed back onto what was going on in the classroom I had usually missed something vital and so although I was intelligent I would fall behind.'
In fact although the illness is mainly associated with children, 70 per cent of sufferers will still have the condition in adulthood.
Despite its innocuous title, the condition, which is thought to be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, can be highly disruptive to sufferers' lives. Because it can inhibit learning sufferers often under-achieve, leading to low self-esteem.
Later in life an inability to concentrate on or remember the smallest of tasks can make day-to-day life seem overwhelming and leave sufferers feeling unable to cope.
'For a woman with ADHD, her most painful challenge may be created by her overwhelming sense of inadequacy at fulfilling the roles she feels that her family and society expect her to play, ' says Kathleen Nadeau, a leading American expert in ADHD in women.
'More and more women have been required to fulfill not only the more traditional roles of wife and mother, but also to function efficiently and tirelessly as they juggle the demands of a full time career. Coping with all of this with ADHD can prove extremely difficult.'
Because ADHD is often hereditary many adult sufferers also have to contend with children suffering the same condition which can add stress to their already difficult lives.
An added complication for female sufferers is that monthly hormonal changes can make the condition worse.
But since her diagnosis a combination of treatments - including medication and behavioural coping strategies - have helped Caroline make huge steps towards taking back control of her life.
'My memory used to be so bad that if I said I would phone a friend back in an hour I would forget to,' she says. 'Friends were understandably upset when I forgot.
'Now one of my coping strategies is a palm top computer. If I tell a friend I'm going to call them back in an hour I put it in my computer and programme the alarm so it alerts me to do it,' she says.
She has also been able to spend more quality time with her children. 'Before I was diagnosed I would ask them how their day had been, but find that my mind could not stay focused on what they were saying to me,' she says. 'Now I am able to focus my attention on them much more and it has been a great step forward for us all.
As told to CHARLOTTE HARDING
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