Is it menopause or ADHD?

ADHD symptoms are often brushed off as just a natural consequence of menopause, but it's worth pursuing a proper diagnosis

Ageism Awareness Day is marked on Oct 7 and seems like the perfect time to focus on how many women over the age of 40 are slipping through the cracks when it comes to getting an ADHD diagnosis. Because low estrogen can mess with brain chemistry, women, especially, can find their ADHD symptoms are brushed off as just a natural consequence of perimenopause or menopause itself. Which is why it’s imperative that health practitioners, when confronted with patients with evaporating attention, disappearing self-regulation, poor impulse control, consider a possible ADHD diagnosis

This doesn’t necessarily mean that ADHD can suddenly appear in middle age and beyond. It’s that it’s a tricky condition to diagnose - especially because it manifests so differently in women than in men. Women, through social conditioning, have been particularly adept at masking, or mimicking more socially acceptable behaviors, so our ADHD can easily go undiagnosed for years. We can feel especially confused by the symptoms. This confusion is classed as ‘egodystonic’ among psychologists, as it causes a conflict with women’s own expectations. Society expects women to be people-pleasers, to remember birthdays, to be organised. So, when such things are a struggle and we don’t know why, it can cause a huge amount of anxiety. It also has a negative impact on our self-esteem. 

woman in teal long sleeve shirt holding black laptop computer

It’s always worth talking to a trusted health care professional about your concerns

As our estrogen levels start to fluctuate in middle age, our dopamine and serotonin receptors take a hit. If you know anything about ADHD, you know it’s all about dopamine. These receptors are linked to attention, impulse control, and mood, so it’s only natural that ADHD symptoms become even more pronounced. If you already have a diagnosis and have been effectively treated, you may find that once menopause starts, medication might not be as effective as before. 

So, what happens if you think you have undiagnosed ADHD? One of the first things to ask yourself is if these are new symptoms or if you’ve always had problems with organization and time management? If you’re no stranger to time management issues, and you’ve spent your life wondering what’s wrong with you, while everyone else seems to have their act together, then chances are an ADHD assessment might be a good next step for you. However if the symptoms have come out of the blue, they may be related to menopause and estrogen messing with your brain chemistry. 

 Advocate for yourself

In either case, it’s worth talking to a trusted health care professional about your concerns. If you do end up with an ADHD diagnosis, it could be a life-changing moment. Getting diagnosed isn't just a label; it's the key to understanding your brain's unique wiring. Sure, it might come with sadness, frustration, and a bit of "Why didn't I know this earlier?" Still, it's also a ticket to tailored treatments, be it medication, nutrition, exercise, ADHD coaching (reach out to me for more information on this) - the possibilities of making the most of your life are varied, and health care practitioners need to consider all this. Advocate for yourself to make sure a diagnosis isn’t missed. Don’t let ageism cloud judgments - everyone is entitled to the best treatment - regardless of age.

How a new stage production is bringing visibility to neurodiverse women
Dora Colquhoun, a British theater actress, has created a fantastic stage production called 'ADHD The Musical: Can I Have Your Attention Please?'