Tuesday, November 29, 2005

AD/HD: Ready, Set, FORGET!

One source of humor for me is always found in the mirror. Now, judging by some of the photos I've displayed here recently you may be thinking that I find my face pretty funny looking, too, but I'm speaking metaphorically. Years ago I pulled my self-esteem out of the muck by learning to laugh at myself when I goof up. How fortunate I have had so many opportunities to develop that as a skill over the years.

I began the morning with a mission. I must buy diaper wipes. But I couldn't do it at Wal*Mart. No! That would be gauche. Off to Target. Once there I proceeded to get the other item on my mental list - an FM transmitter for my iPod mini. Ooh, look at the pretty Christmas lights! Excuse me, miss, do you have any better quality Santa hats? Oh, gotta take my four year old to the bathroom. Hey, look! Altoids, but where are the licorice ones? Let's look in all 30 candy isles.. Darn, no licorice Altoids. Mrs. Manager, do you have any left? OK, I'll wait. What? They're discontinued? OK, I'll buy your remaining 27 boxes at half price! Score! Ooh, we gotta get home. School bus comes in an hour. But first I'll plug in my new FM transmitter and... Hey! It doesn't work. That meant I had to go back, return it, get another one, and come back out to car, drive away and get within one mile of home before I could suddenly remember: I forgot to buy diaper wipes.

Now, there was a time when being so forgetful would cause me to lay into myself verbally, but I found that never helped. So instead I laughed out loud. It's true I felt dopey. There's no excusing such disorganization. I should have jotted down a shopping list as I usually do before going into the store, but I forgot my PDA and so missed that step.

Missing steps is par for the course with ADHD. We can all be a bit scatterbrained from time to time, but people with ADHD specialize in it.

In fact, the number two symptom in Hallowell and Ratey's Diagnostic Criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults is disorganization.

2. Difficulty getting organized.
A major problem for most adults with ADD. Without the structure of school, without parents around to get things organized for him or her, the adult may stagger under the organizational demands of everyday life. The supposed "little things" may mount up to create huge obstacles. For the want of a proverbial nail–amissed appointment, a lost check, a forgotten deadline–their kingdom may be lost.

Many kingdoms of mine have been lost. Imagine how happy I was to discover that researchers at the University of Oregon may have found a solution to this problem. They have discovered that if you can disregard some of what you see you'll do a better job of remembering the important stuff. Those who are scatterbrained are simply not able to filter out extraneous information as well as others. At first blush, this seems plainly obvious.


However, there's something to be gained by learning how certain dysfunctions occur.
"Being 'scatterbrained' is often a symptom of a hectic modern life in which we are often overcommitted, overworked and inundated with information," claimed Edward Vogel, project head. "Given such an environment, it would not be surprising if many of our important cognitive control processes become overtaxed and less efficient. Attentional training may be able to improve one's ability to bounce irrelevant information from awareness."

Attention training is something I can get excited about. Many people with ADHD experience thoughts in a mad rush. When our environment begins to pelt us with information, if our adrenaline cannot boost our hyperactivity levels we often become overwhelmed and forgetful. Vogel's team is working on focusing drills based on their new research that will help curb that effect.

"It appears that these functions can be improved through training, at least during childhood," Vogel says. "Interestingly, there has been some recent evidence that similar improvements can also be seen in adults who have been trained on certain video games."

Until they develop those memory building exercizes I'm afraid I have to rely on my old standby – my PDA. Either that or a list on a piece of paper will do the trick. Fortunately, being absentminded isn't always a bad trait. The scatterbrained ones often come up with the unique solutions.

"There may be advantages to having a lot of seemingly irrelevant information coming to mind," Vogel points out. "Being a bit scattered tends to be a trait of highly imaginative people."

All those rapidly free-firing neurons may play havoc with our ability to focus and remember, but they are wonderfully suited for generating new and spontaneous ideas. All the same, when entering a typically distracting zone don't forget to keep a pencil and paper handy, and some extra willpower. It's going to take me a while to get through all 27 tins of Liquorice Altoids.