As we get older, occasional forgetfulness may become more worrisome. Is this the start of dementia, or are we just stressed? Has the loss of structure due to retirement led to this change? Or could we be suffering from another illness, maybe the same illness as our son or granddaughter, who also struggle with attention and organization?
What are the symptoms of ADHD in older adults?
Although the diagnosis of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is often associated with school-age children, this condition may persist throughout adulthood and into old age. Older adults with ADHD struggle with attention, memory, and planning. They may struggle with finishing projects or remembering information consistently, and they may become distracted during conversations and experience difficulty maintaining relationships. When older adults lose the structure of employment, they may experience an exacerbation of symptoms, similar to when young adults with ADHD lose the structure of school. During retirement older adults may start to re-experience challenges with time-management and procrastination, which may result in feelings of anxiety or guilt.
Is it normal aging or ADHD?
When people share concerns with their doctor about their memory, attention, or difficulty completing tasks, they may receive a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a stage between normal aging and dementia. However, older adults with ADHD may never have received a diagnosis of ADHD, especially if they had learned skills to compensate during their lifetime. To help doctors differentiate between mild cognitive impairment and ADHD in old age, the timing of symptoms and family history can provide good clues (after ruling out potential medical causes, such as thyroid or seizure disorders).
ADHD is one of the most heritable disorders in medicine, so having children, grandchildren, or siblings with this diagnosis should increase a doctor’s suspicion that their patient’s symptoms may be the result of ADHD. Understanding a patient’s timeline of symptoms is also crucial, as symptoms must have occurred in childhood to make the diagnosis of ADHD. Screening tools in adults may also be useful, such as the ADHD Self-Report Scale, although a positive screen doesn’t always mean you ha