Attention Deficit Disorder and Alzheimer’s Disease
You make careless errors. You are easily distractible, have poor concentration, and are forgetful. You are disorganized and often misplace items. You interrupt others, are easily frustrated, and have poor follow through on what you start. These symptoms interfere with your ability to work or engage in activities you enjoy. Do you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder or do you have early Alzheimer’s disease? Or do you have something else?
I have several cases a year where I am consulted by someone with these symptoms and asked about both the diagnoses and what to do to help. If you are older than 15 and the symptoms are new (were not present before the age of 12), you don’t have Attention Deficit Disorder and are very unlikely to have Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are between 30 and 60, you probably do not have Alzheimer’s disease, other causes of these symptoms must be considered. You need to be assessed for conditions like diabetes, thyroid disorder, hormone imbalances, sleep disorders, etc. You also need assessment for Adult Attention Deficit disorder, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorder. As you age beyond 60 these symptoms are more likely to reflect neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Both Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and early Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are memory disorders based on subjective complaints. However, the mechanics of the memory loss are different. In ADD, the problem is inattentiveness and distractibility. The conflict is in working memory (multitasking and sustaining attention). The memory failure in AD is that storage does not occur. It is like the save command for your computer fails. You are fine with what is already stored – long-term memory – but you are impaired when life requires you to cope with something new – short-term memory.
The One Minute Rule (anything given less than one minute of thought will fade from your memory) will help in either case but for different reasons (hear Dr. Beckwith by going to www3.gotomeeting.com/register/891165934). In ADD part of the fix is to slow down input, increase attention, and reduce interference. This fix will help in the future as long as short-term memory (the hippocampus) continues to function well. In early onset AD, this strategy allows the inefficient hippocampus to have more time to work. It also allows those so afflicted more time to build effective compensatory strategies.
The other similarity between ADD and AD is impairment of executive functions. In both disorders there are often weaknesses in the areas of organizing, sequencing, prioritizing, planning, making decisions, and holding information in memory. In both disorders the solution is therapy that teaches effective organizational strategies, reduces anxiety and self-defeating thoughts, improves planning and decision-making.
The primary difference is that in ADD the target of intervention is the afflicted individual as the skills and new habits are sustained. In AD there will be a degrading of skills over time. Therefore, treatment strategies need to include family and significant others who will progressively become more involved in managing situations as memory and executive functions erode.