If I can't pay attention, do I have attention deficit disorder (ADD)?

A basic rule of attention is that WE PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT WE ARE INTERESTED IN. Everybody is paying attention to something while they are awake. So the question is if I can't pay attention to WHAT I AM SUPPOSED TO BE PAYING ATTENTION TO, do I have ADD?   If you can't pay attention, it may mean you are not interested in what you are supposed to be paying attention to. This may mean you don't like your job or you spend a lot of time doing things you are not interested in.

Of course you MIGHT have ADD if you can't pay attention to what you are supposed to be paying attention to. You should get an evaluation that will rule out alternative causes of difficulty paying attention. There are many possible alternative explanations. Some of the most common are

  • Not Getting Enough Sleep
  • Over-stressed
  • Depression or Anxiety
  • Your life is Unmanageable - meaning no one could do everything you expect yourself to do
  • Medical disorders

It's also possible that difficulty paying attention may be caused by having instant and constant access to a steady stream of incoming information and entertainment from around the globe, quite literally in the palm of your hand - an iPhone, iPad, cell phone, any wireless handheld device. It remains to be determined how these technological innovations will impact our long-term capacity to pay attention, stay focused and complete high-priority projects.

Mona A. Schulz, MD
A lot of people today, at midlife especially, think they’re losing their minds and that they have attention deficit disorder (ADD). You may have trouble, in your forties, your fifties, or even later, paying attention in the world and you may feel that you have late onset ADD or early onset dementia, but that’s just not the case.

There are four different ways of feeling that you’re losing your mind, you can’t pay attention and you can’t remember. The first type is if your hormones are a mess and your immune system is on the fritz. If you have chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, environmental illness, chronic infections like sinus infections, allergies, if you have rheumatoid arthritis or some other kind of joint problem, or if you are in some type of treatment for cancer like chemotherapy, when your immune system or your hormones are on the fritz, you are not going to be able to pay attention, and you’re going to think that you have ADD and you’re going to want your doctor to give you Ritalin and that would be a mistake.

The second type of distractibility is when your emotions are a mess or you’re panicked and frenzied. If you have depression, if you have anxiety, panic, it’s hard to pay attention because all of your circuits are focused on other emotions, and there are many people who think they have attention deficit disorder and they feel somewhat better initially on Adderall or Ritalin, but after a month or so, their brain is a fuzzball again.

The third type of attention where you think you have ADD is when your attention is elsewhere, something else is bothering you inside. All your attention circuits are busy, so you’re not going to be able to pay attention to the outer world in class or at work and you’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to think you have ADD, and you’re going to want medicine for it, and once again, medicine will be a mistake.

The fourth type of attention deficit is when you have satellite dish intuition. Your attention may be focused intuitively on others, people who are in pain, agony, or suffering, so much that it’s almost like your bi-locating. Your brain is with someone else and it’s not present at your desk at work or at home with your partner. Your problem is not ADD, you have a problem with intuition.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.