Is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) only a problem in childhood? A case for older age ADHD and its relationship with age-related disorders

By Maja Dobrosavljevic

With the growing population of older individuals, age-related disorders receive increasing attention as both an individual and public health concern. ADHD is usually associated with younger age; however, in approximately 60% of children and adolescents with ADHD, significant problems with attention and everyday functioning can persist to middle and older age. Although an increasing number of older adults has started seeking help in relation to ADHD symptoms, we still do not know what proportion of older population can be classified as having ADHD. This is because previous studies have been mostly conducted in children, adolescents and adults younger than 50.

Available research has shown that ADHD is linked to higher mortality rates and to a wide range of physical health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, as well as to mental health and behavioral problems. Additionally, recent studies have indicated that ADHD might be a risk factor for dementia. However, the available scientific literature has provided only sparse and inconclusive insights in how ADHD is manifesting in older individuals in relation to their health.

Having in mind the striking knowledge gap in what we know about ADHD in older adults, our first step is to conduct a systematic review of available literature. This will help us to identify more precisely the proportion of the older age population with ADHD, as well as to gain better understanding of manifestation of ADHD in this age group. In the next step, we aim to investigate a potential association between ADHD and age-related disorders, by using large-scale Swedish population registries.

Our findings can be applied in shifting the focus of health providers and research community to this, mostly unrecognized, population. Also, age-specific prevention programs could be developed that might help older people with ADHD to prevent certain health issues by employing small changes in their eating habits or physical activity. Finally, viewing ADHD as a life-long, chronic condition, rather than a developmental condition, can provide new insights into neuropsychological aspects of ageing.

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