At one time, ADHD was considered to be a childhood illness. As someone reached the late teens and adulthood, symptoms went away, or so it was thought. In the past decade we have come to understand that this isn’t the case; that ADHD symptoms continue well into adulthood and continue to cause problems. Two studies released this year (2012) that focused on adult ADHD also found impairment throughout people’s lives.
Middle Age Adults
A study completed in Australia looked at over 2000 middle-age adults with almost half being male. Each participant took the WHO Adult ADHD Self Report Screener (ASRS) and 6.2 percent of participants were found to score high enough to be associated with an ADHD diagnosis. Some of the findings were:
- There was a high correlation between ADHD symptoms and the presence of depression/anxiety symptoms. The correlation was seen whether ADHD symptoms were mild or severe, indicating that, at least in this group, those with ADHD had a high chance of developing either depression, anxiety or both.
- Those with ADHD symptoms had a higher rate of being unemployed and having financial problems with those with high inattention scores having lower chances of being employed.
- Besides employment issues, those with ADHD symptoms were found to have a more difficult time adjusting to relationships, issues with health related quality of life and problems with social interactions.
- Inattention was more of a problem than hyperactivity.
The results of the study showed that ADHD symptoms, especially inattention, continue to cause impairment and problems through mid-life. This age group, however, has been largely neglected in other research studies and more information is needed to determine the best way to treat ADHD during these years.
Another study completed in the Netherlands and published in August, 2012, showed that approximately 3 percent of the over-60 population has symptoms of ADHD. There were 1,494 participants, ranging in age from 60 to 94. Of the total participants, 231 indicated symptoms of ADHD and were asked to complete a longer, structured interview. The Netherlands estimates that 2.8 percent of elderly adults in their country have ADHD symptoms.
According to the study, those with ADHD:
- Worked below their intellectual level
- Had relationship problems
- Had difficulty with daily organization
- Were more likely to have accidents
- Displayed more antisocial behavior than those without ADHD
Although we now know that ADHD symptoms continue into adulthood, services and resources are not always available. As a child, parents have resources through their doctors and their child’s school. But as these children hit adulthood, the services tend to disappear and adults, and their families, are left to struggle on their own.
For many people who are mid-age and older, a diagnosis of ADHD wasn’t available when they were younger. Until the 1960s, ADHD was known as Minimal Brain Dysfunction, and even in the following years, only those who were hyperactive were diagnosed. Those who are middle-aged or elderly today may have fallen through the cracks, being thought of as lazy or stupid.
The research from these two studies offers promise for those who are older and either have not been diagnosed or have been and are seeking better medical care and treatment of their ADHD symptoms. Further research can help develop better treatments and help individuals better develop coping strategies for every day life.
"A Population-Based Study of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms and Associated Impairment in Middle-Aged Adults," 2012, Feb 8, Debjani Das et al, PLOS One
"ADHD Affects 3 percent of Adults Over 60, Dutch Study Finds," 2012, Aug 9, Sophie Wedgwood, BMJ 345: e5415
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.