New technology makes ADHD diagnosis more precise

Dr. Cheryl Borst, a psychologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, councils children and adults with attention deficit disorder.
Dr. Cheryl Borst, a psychologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, councils children and adults with attention deficit disorder.

CRYSTAL LAKE – New advancements in testing for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are making it easier for adults to get help.

Local health professionals said a growing number of adults were seeking treatment for the disorder, commonly known as ADHD. In decades past, it was thought to affect primarily children. Now, the disorder is diagnosed in people of all ages. It is more common in men.

Often, adults are first made aware of the symptoms when their child is brought in for diagnosis. Like some other health issues, ADHD is believed to be genetically inherited.

“A lot of parents check off the symptoms when their child is being tested,” said Dr. Sharyl Balkin, a psychiatrist who works with Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington.

With new technology, diagnosing ADHD has become easier and more precise, said Dr. Robert Kohn, a neurologist and neuropsychiatrist with a private practice in McHenry. Doctors have been criticized for over-diagnosing the problem and over-prescribing powerful stimulants to treat it. New tests, such as the Quotient ADHD System, manufactured by BioBehavioral Diagnostics Co., and Neba, an EEG test by Lexicor, have “sharpened diagnosis and treatment,” Kohn said.

These tests are more accurate and give doctors a significant advantage, he added.

While ADHD can be treated, it often is accompanied by other behavioral health issues. People with ADHD often have other psychiatric disorders. Depression, bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and learning disorders are some examples, Kohn said.

Stimulants such as amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methylphenidate are commonly used to treat ADHD. These include the brand-name medications Adderall and Ritilan. Non-stimulant medications such as Strattera and Intuniv also are prescribed.

“Stimulants are the cornerstone of treatment,” Kohn said. “When it works well, it is very powerful.”

Kohn said many of his adult patients reported “a life changing experience with medication.” It was not uncommon for them to shed tears at the discovery of a treatment that works.

Patients often report they are better able to concentrate at work, less forgetful, and better able to cope with stress and relationships, said several doctors interviewed for this article.

In place of or in conjunction with medication, talk therapy, organizational classes, mega vitamins, exercise and life coaches are sometimes used, Balkin said. However, these treatments are less likely to be covered by insurance plans.

Between 3 percent and 7 percent of school-age children in the U.S. have ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Furthermore, the number of ADHD cases has increased 3 percent each year from 1997 to 2006. CDC findings show it is diagnosed at significantly higher rates among non-Hispanic, primarily English-speaking children covered by insurance. Rates for adults are less clear.

“Some people used to think children would outgrow it eventually, but that isn’t the case,” said Dr. Cheryl Borst, a clinical psychologist who works with Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington. “A lot of adults have never been diagnosed, so more are coming in.”

Other times, trouble at work or with a relationship push adults to seek help.

“They come when they are up against the wall,” said Lyn Purpura, a life coach who helps ADHD patients with organizational skills and other issues.

ADHD can cause major headaches on the job, for employees and employers. It is estimated to be responsible for $3.7 billion in work loss costs in 2000, according to the CDC.

The precise cause of ADHD is not known and there is no known cure for the disorder, but “it can be coped with,” Balkin said. Common symptoms include difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. How these symptoms play out from person to person varies. For example, attention problems can include forgetfulness, being easily distracted, failure to complete tasks, or disorganized work habits.

“The core features are the same, but they are expressed in different combinations,” Kohn said.

Not everyone with ADHD requires treatment. Some adults, especially those with mild cases, are able to manage, said Balkin, who has worked with lawyers and doctors with ADHD.

“The more intelligent you are,” she said, “the more likely you are to get by without treatment.”

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