By Cathy Cassata
In 2020, when 70-year-old Liora Moriel received an email from the Chesapeake Center — a Maryland-based center offering clinical services for people with ADHD and learning differences — that accounced a free online group for older adults with ADHD, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I’ve never been officially diagnosed with ADHD, but I recognize that’s who I am,” she says.
In addition, Moriel felt that a group session would help her deal with the isolation brought on by retirement and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The fact that the Zoom meetings were led by therapists Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, and Susan Van Ost, PhD, was a further inducement to participate.
“It was amazing to have people of that caliber provide a free session every week,” Moriel says.
Nadeau’s book, “Still Distracted After All These Years,” includes interviews with 150 older ADHD adults. Through her research, Nadeau found that many are cautious about reaching out for help because of past negative experiences related to their ADHD symptoms. This isolation invited a group approach.
Providing Education and Comfort During Lonely Times
For 18 months, Nadeau and Van Ost conducted online sessions for about 20 people, mostly women who self-identified as having ADHD. The meetings began with a 15-minute instructional presentation on symptoms and strategies related to ADHD, and then participants engaged in discussion.
“Sometimes the discussion would stay on the topic that was introduced and sometimes it didn’t,” Van Ost says, noting that mutual sharing and support helped ease the loneliness felt by many of the women and were equally as important as the instructional part of the meeting.
After each session, participants received an emailed summary along with slides that were part of the presentation.
Making the Group Their Own
Because people felt isolated and found it difficult to get help for issues they were experiencing, they turned to Nadeau and Van Ost.
“Little by little, it turned into a support group. We got into the rhythm of listening to each other and getting support from each other, as well as from the professionals,” says Moriel.
In 2022, Nadeau and Van Ost decided to step away from the group and let it run on its own — with Moriel in the lead. As a former adjunct lecturer of comparative literature at the University of Maryland, Moriel put her organizational skills to use, sending notices to participants and creating a structure for each weekly session.
“Of all the groups that the center set up, this is the one that continued for the whole year. And it’s still going strong three years later, with 12 women who come regularly — some from California, Arizona, Tennessee and Massachusetts,” Moriel says. “One of us is actually a grandmother to ADHD kids — even though she does not have ADHD herself.”
While the presence of a mental health professional was an initial draw for many of the women who are still participating, Van Ost says that people remained connected because the group has become their ADHD “family.”
Though Van Ost feels that the group’s biggest benefit is providing a space for positive relationships to develop, she has remained available to provide consultation.
“That kind of accessibility might be something a professional would do as a public service,” Van Ost says.
Although people can develop positive connections with their therapist, Van Ost says a group of people can foster connection more effectively.
“People who have positive relationships live longer than those who don’t,” Van Ost says. “Your immune system is affected when you are isolated or have contentious relationships. Among older adults, being connected to people through positive relationships promotes longevity.”
Moriel has experienced this firsthand. She says the group has evolved from a group of strangers coming together for an hour, to a group of friends sharing insight, ideas and stories, to a group that feels like family.
“We really like each other and care about each other,” Moriel says. “Last year, some of us who live near each other all got together at a local restaurant to celebrate a couple of birthdays. There’s a real connection more than just sharing a problem.”
As women with a history of fulfilling traditional roles, “a lot of us took care of other people for the longest time and didn’t really do much for ourselves, so it’s really a relief that we can share issues,” Moriel says. “Some of us are going through different things, whether physical or emotional, and we’ve opened up to each other to an amazing degree.”
Sentiments From Participants in the Support Group
We asked a few of the women who attend the weekly sessions to share what the support group means to them.
“What I love mostly about the group is being with people/women who share similar trials and tribulations about our ADHD. It makes me feel less alone.”
“Sharing divides our sorrows and doubles our joys. All humans need community and this is especially important to me as I live alone. I have learned a great deal from these women as we share our ideas of how to cope with clutter, organizing, procrastination, impulsiveness, losing things that were in our hands moments ago, and everything in between.”
“Best thing for me is having a group of ‘odd birds’ like me. Age and life stage is important, since most all of the ADHD books and videos are geared toward children, teens and parents dealing with their offspring. The majority of the literature is about boys, as well. Thank goodness for Dr. Nadeau’s new book. A group of ‘mature’ women with ADHD? I am not alone! Most of us are finding out about ADHD late in life. It is a shock to get over that.”
For more information about support groups for ADHD seniors at Chesapeake Center, contact Susan Van Ost, PhD, at [email protected]