DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene. In Your Health today, why emergency rooms are hiring their own pharmacists. But first, ADHD, according to a recent survey, the use of medication to treat attention disorder is rising - most rapidly, not among children, but among young women between the ages of 19 and 34. Girls are often not diagnosed until they're adults. NPR's Patti Neighmond looks at why that is.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder overwhelmingly has its roots in childhood. Dr. Lenard Adler, a psychiatrist with the NYU Langone Medical Center, says it's easier to spot in boys.
LENARD ADLER: Boys are more likely to be fidgety, restless, talking to their friends, getting bored easily, you know, doing some things that they're not supposed to be doing.
NEIGHMOND: Behavioral disruptions that are hard to miss. ADHD can compromise learning and development and teachers often tell parents what they already know, their child has trouble focusing and paying attention. Girls can have the same problems but Adler says the symptoms are often more quiet, like with this former patient.
ADLER: She had difficulty paying attention in class, was seen as daydreaming. Comments on the report cards were underperforming, not meeting potential...
NEIGHMOND: 23-year-old Diany Levy had similar problems focusing and she got labeled as lazy.
DIANY LEVY: Most of my teachers used to call my mom, almost on a daily basis - hey, she's not finishing her work - that I was, like, not paying attention and, like, looking around and listening to everything but them.
NEIGHMOND: By the time she got to college, Levy's difficulties got worse. She couldn't sit through a two-hour lecture. She had to get up and move around. When it took her classmates 45 minutes to read a 20 page assignment, it took her three to four hours.
LEVY: I couldn't focus to get it all done at once. I needed to do something in between and just read a bit now and then reread a little bit and keep reading so it was very hard to get my reading assignments done.
NEIGHMOND: What happened to Levy is typical, says psychiatrist, Adler. If people aren't diagnosed and treated in childhood, when they become adults and go to college or get a job, symptoms become harder to cope with because life is more complicated. Add responsibilities of a family and life can become overwhelming for many women.
SPEAKER: They've got to take care of their kids, be sure they get out the door and go to work, manage all of the things in the workplace and maybe managing others at work, if they've been lucky enough to be in a managerial position. Then come home, get dinner on the table, make sure the kids do their homework, pay the bills, deal with their spouse - this is a very different life than an elementary-age school girl, where you're sitting in a classroom and your homework's handed to you.
NEIGHMOND: The good news, says Adler, women are more likely to seek out help, see a doctor, get into therapy, than men and this is one of the reasons why more young women may be being diagnosed with ADHD. Diany Levy is now in grad school. The college health center suggested she see Dr. Adler and within days she was on treatment, taking medication. The change, she says, was nearly immediate.
LEVY: I can get things done. I can get them done on time, without excuses. I used to be the queen of excuses. I'm actually reading a book for fun for the first time in a good five years and I'm almost done with my book.
NEIGHMOND: Levy wishes she'd been diagnosed earlier. Maybe she could have been an A student, she says. And her SAT scores might have been better. Tony Wilson is a neuroscientist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He says medication works for adults like Levy because it increases levels of chemicals in the brain that strengthen communication networks between different regions.
TONY WILSON: When patients have stronger networks, they are better able to do a variety of things from, you know, holding their attention on goal-directed activity to solving, you know, mental problems to better able to focus on, you know, the task at hand, whatever it is.
NEIGHMOND: A sort of calming effect that can set the stage for more effective coping skills, often learned through behavior therapy. Now, there are some risks. ADHD drugs can increase blood pressure and heart rate, so patients need to be monitored on a regular basis. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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