Inattentive ADHD In Adults: The Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 06/27/2022

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.4% of children and 4.4% of adults in the United States have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

With the prevalence of the condition, one might expect the signs of ADHD to be obvious to many people – inattentive or restless children who find it difficult to wait for turns, or adults who struggle with concentration. The truth is that this is only one aspect of the disorder. Many children and adults with inattentive ADHD deviate from the stereotyped perception of what ADHD looks like – they can be reserved, quiet, and shy. The symptoms are different, but they stem from the same mental health disorder – and likewise require the much same interventions provided to the hyperactive form of the condition.

Understanding Inattentive ADHD

Predominantly inattentive ADHD is generally marked by trouble with concentration, forgetfulness, disorganization, and disengagement. Research suggests that inattentive ADHD is more prevalent in females than males, although males are three times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than females. Since inattentive ADHD symptoms can be hard to notice outwardly – and since they do not fit into the conventional understanding of the disorder – it is sometimes considered an underdiagnosed disorder.

Often, the symptoms are either missed entirely, mistaken for a learning disability or mental health condition, or dismissed as personality traits. It makes sense, then, that without the proper diagnosis and treatment, children with this condition often struggle with learning in neurotypical environments and may develop anxiety or depression.

As adults, individuals with inattentive ADHD may experience relationship and financial challenges, as well as struggles to attain their full career potential. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, medical professionals often find it hard to recognize inattentive ADHD symptoms, meaning those with the condition scarcely get the necessary treatment.

Symptoms Of Inattentive ADHD

The Diagnostic Manual from the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5) lists nine symptoms for inattentive ADHD. While most people experience inattention occasionally, people with the predominantly inattentive form of ADHD regularly experience the following symptoms. These symptoms may interfere with or interrupt normal functions at work, in social situations, and with family members.

Lack Of Attention To Detail

Individuals with inattentive ADHD may not be able to stay focused long enough to pay careful attention to certain tasks. For example, an adult with inattentive ADHD may fail to properly proofread a document or email at work, causing embarrassment and undesired attention. Lack of attention to detail (often because of difficulty in maintaining attention for longer periods of time) is why the person makes these mistakes and has a hard time finishing tasks. If you find yourself reminding yourself to slow down and pay attention but struggle to do so, this could indicate inattentive ADHD.

Difficulty Concentrating

Another symptom of inattentive ADHD is the inability to or great difficulty with concentrating on tasks and long-term projects. Unfinished classwork and half-done projects can be indications of ADHD. Adults with inattentive ADHD may dislike dull work meetings more than others and may need to sip coffee, chew gum, stand, or move around during the meeting to stay attentive through it. If you cannot complete projects or get through long documents, it could be a sign of inattentive ADHD.

Daydreaming

Inattentive adults may be daydreamers and may regularly get lost in their thoughts and zone out. They may make doodles on their notes during meetings and focus on other unnecessary things while talking to them about important matters. The regular spaciness may often be mistaken for lack of interest and could lead to issues in professional or school settings, especially when concentration is necessary.

Lack Of Organization

Adults with inattentive ADHD may struggle to manage their time or organize tasks properly. The symptoms can cause a high-stress level, mood swings, or anger. Lack of organization often co-occurs with a lack of concentration and is visible through challenges with executive functions, especially keeping track of stuff like deadlines or where physical things are located, setting objectives, multitasking, cleaning, and remembering appointments or instructions.

Forgetfulness

Repeated forgetfulness is another common sign of inattentive ADHD. This could mean missing doctor appointments, arriving at meetings late, and standing up friends for dinner or forgetting to call or text them back. Those with inattentive ADHD often omit important tasks or steps in a process and may forget to pay bills, reply to messages, or send birthday wishes. People may think of the behavior as rudeness, but this behavior is hardly intentional and can result in a great deal of guilt and even shame on the part of the individual with ADHD, though we want to make special note that you should never feel guilty or shameful for having ADHD or the symptoms that can come along with it.

Often Misplacing Possessions

An adult with inattentive ADHD may regularly lose important materials for general daily activities – things like keys, wallet, sports equipment, glasses, and backpacks. They may eventually find the item in weird places. Such people might need a locator device or launch pad to avoid forgetting certain items.

Difficulty Listening Or Following Instructions

Inattentive adults may struggle to follow instructions and complete tasks in a certain manner. They may only retain half of the instructions provided to them verbally and may need to record notes or read through a page several times to reallyabsorb all of the information. They may get sidetracked halfway through a conversation and interrupt others with their own stories.

Easily Distracted

Adults with inattentive ADHD can get easily distracted, leaving several projects unfinished at a time. They may start piano lessons and ditch them after a few months of struggling with sheet music. If you like to plan and launch projects but get distracted and leave several unfulfilled promises, you may be dealing with attentive ADHD.

Diagnosing Inattentive ADHD

There is currently no medical or genetic test for predominantly inattentive ADHD. Diagnosing ADHD demands reviewing the symptoms carefully. The evaluation can be provided by a mental health professional, usually a psychiatrist, neurologist, or clinical psychologist. The evaluation comprises:

  • Identify the symptoms present.
  • Verify that the symptoms are not caused by another mental health or environmental condition, including higher work pressure or increased stress in someone’s life.
  • Identify the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.

The physician or mental health professional will ask for a complete history of your past and present behavioral traits. The questions will include how the person performs at home, work, and socially. Close friends and family members may need to answer questions for verification or provide extra information. Having the symptoms now is not enough – you must have had the symptoms since 12 years of age, have them in more than one setting, and they must be disruptive to your daily life.

You will answer questions about your family’s medical history. You may need to get a physical examination to eliminate medical conditions that may cause symptoms identical to those of ADHD, including things like a learning disability, sleep disorders, and alcohol or drug use issues. You will also fill a rating scale of symptoms. The doctor might utilize other rating scales of standardized behavior. You may also take other medical or psychological tests to detect the presence of co-occurring conditions like depression and anxiety.

In summary, to get a diagnosis of inattentive ADHD as an adult (17 years of age or older), you must have:

  • Five or more of the symptoms of inattention, which may change with time
  • Symptoms occurring for at least six months or more
  • Symptoms must affect work, social, or home life
  • Several symptoms were noticed before age 12
  • Multiple symptoms present in at least two different life conditions – work, home, or social life. An instance might be job loss due to ADHD symptoms or financial struggles due to poor organization or forgetting to pay bills on time
  • Symptoms are not caused by another mental disorder

Treatment For Inattentive ADHD

Most people have a type of ADHD that involves impulsiveness and hyperactivity. The second most common form of ADHD is the inattentive type. Unfortunately, many of those with this form of ADHD do not get diagnosed.

People with predominantly inattentive ADHD may be more prone to withdrawal or isolation. They are not usually impulsive and tend to be quiet. They generally have problems discovering interests or motivation in life.

Since it is easy to miss signs of inattentive ADHD, it can persist for several years without treatment. However, treatment is crucial, regardless of the life stage. Fortunately, inattentive ADHD responds well to treatment. It is usually possible to transform someone’s life with proper diagnosis and treatment, no matter their age.

Medications can be effective for some, tackling underlying problems with attention while you learn coping methods through therapy or coaching.

Stimulant medications are the most common drugs for ADHD. Most times, stimulant meds can help adults with inattentive ADHD concentrate and stay on a task. However, some of the meds can have unwanted side effects, including trouble sleeping, decreased appetite, increased blood pressure, headaches, and dizziness.

Behavioral intervention plans can also help those diagnosed with inattentive ADHD learn adaptive behavior skills and limit off-task or inattentive behaviors. They provide benefits over the long-term because the adaptation skills learned through therapy can help improve concentration and socialization skills permanently.

Coaching that focuses on improving memory and organization skills are beneficial for adults dealing with inattentive ADHD. Depending on their expertise, an ADHD coach can help inattentive adults learn social skills and financial planning – two prevalent issues.

Some of the tips to consider for better management of inattentive ADHD include:

  • Use timers
  • Use high-energy music to motivate yourself ahead of a long meeting, challenging tasks, or anything likely to distract you
  • If you notice signs of distractions, change your location – moving can help retune the brain if boredom sets in

Adults with ADHD may not always describe what they are experiencing and sometimes may face several snide jabs about being lazy or uncommitted. These insults can cause low self-esteem, and the doubt may even linger after a diagnosis. It is necessary to tackle the feelings and get assistance, whether from a therapist, close friend, or partner. With proper treatment and self-acceptance, you can surmount ADHD challenges and identify your strengths and successes.

In Conclusion

If you have a problem concentrating on tasks and experience other symptoms of any type of ADHD, you need to talk to a licensed medical professional for a proper diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis is only the first part of fighting the challenges you face with inattentive ADHD. Many treatment options are available for treating the condition, including medication and therapy. Early intervention can stop the disorder from further disrupting your life. You can take an assessment test for ADHD to get started.