ADD and Alzheimer's: Are These Diseases Related?


Can attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) cause Alzheimer's or dementia? Are the symptoms I'm experiencing a result of Alzheimer's or is it ADD/ADHD?


ADDitude Answers

Can attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) cause Alzheimer's or dementia?

No, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) cannot cause Alzheimer's or dementia. With ADD/ADHD, we’re dealing with a problem that has to do with the chemical dynamics of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for movement and mood regulation, and norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter associated with "fight or flight" (your abilitiy to respond to stress), release at the brain’s synapses. With Alzheimer’s, the brain’s wiring is destroyed by a thick glop that accumulates on the neurons.

Are the symptoms I'm experiencing a result of Alzheimer's or is it ADD/ADHD?

I see women — successful and smart — come into my office and say, “I’m afraid I have Alzheimer’s, and it scares the crap out of me. I have trouble coming up with words that used to come easily. I can’t concentrate as well as I did.” I do the evaluation, and they have ADD/ADHD syndrome, but they don’t have a history of these difficulties before menopause. It makes sense, though, because estrogen is one of the primary modulators for the release of dopamine in the brain. As the estrogen level drops, as it does in menopause, the result — for some women — looks an awful lot like ADD/ADHD.

Posted by Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D.
Author of A New Understanding of ADHD in Children and Adults

ADDitude Answers

I’d recommend that you have further evaluation when you become concerned. If Alzheimer's is a worry, it might help alleviate it to explore other options, like ADHD, that could be causing symptoms.

For women, ADHD symptoms often get a lot worse when they reach the age of changing hormones: Women Hormones and ADHD. This could explain why symptoms are worsening, if, indeed, it’s ADHD.

Posted by Penny Williams
ADDconnect Moderator, Author on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

I used to have an excellent memory before becoming an adult. Ever since I became 19, I started having some trouble, but it became worse after I was 40. I don’t think it’s just the age. In my case, the first diagnosis was depression and generalized anxiety. After those two were managed, my memory still was getting really bad. My husband and I were concerned I was developing Alzheimer’s.

I was tested, and found that my memory itself is fine, but I have an executive skills impairment and ADHD. Some of the symptoms of ADHD can be confused with Alzheimer’s.

In my case, it's my ADHD that leads to me missing appointments, not so much because I forget them, but because I get distracted with other things and remember too late.

My humble opinion is that you should get tested and see what is happening to your memory and to your ability to organize information.

Posted by najn

A Reader Answers

I am a 45 year old teacher and I too struggle with word recall. I have noticed that it increases when I am tired, not feeling well, or stressed. I am not sure if it is my ADHD or not. It is very frustrating.

I have also been screened for Alzheimer's and for dementia The tests say I’m “normal.” I take 150 mg of Lamictal, 120 mg of Cymbalta, and 60 mg of Straterra to control my issues. For me, it is very frustrating to not be able to recall a student's name immediately. I don’t do it very often, but it is still embarrassing. I just tell my students that my brain is tired.

With my colleagues, they usually supply the word for me. They are aware of my health issues and are very understanding. Thank goodness. I'm still an effective teacher, and use those moments when I have a brain freeze to joke with my students about it. I am learning to accept that these “brain freezes” are part of who I am. It’s not something I like, but I was making myself crazy with negative thoughts about myself. I’m trying to learn to love myself warts and all. It’s not easy. I have found that if I don’t make a big deal about it, then others don’t either. If they do say something I just reply that I’m tired.

Posted by BullyPaws

A Reader Answers

I have been afraid of Alzheimer’s all my life because my Grandmother had early onset. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to tell if it started because I am so forgetful anyways because of my ADHD.

But I think I know the difference now. I believe I am going to get myself tested for Alzheimer’s when:

1. Instead of getting on the wrong bus because I wasn’t paying attention I get on the wrong bus because I forgot which one has been taking me home for the last 20 years.

2. Instead of forgetting an appointment because I forgot to look at the right day on my calendar I forget an appointment because I don’t know how to READ the calendar anymore.

3. Instead of not giving the right amount of money at the cash register because I wasn’t paying attention to the correct amount I don’t give it because I forgot how to COUNT.

I think that will keep me on the right track and comfort me when I worry about it. Hopefully it can help you too.

Posted by befree

This question was asked on the ADDConnect forums. Read the original discussion here.

Dr. Brown, is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, and Associate Director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders. Dr. Brown was awarded by the National Attention Deficit Disorder Association and has been inducted into the CHADD Hall of Fame for his contributions to research and professional education about ADHD.

He is author of the books: A New Understanding of ADHD in Children and Adults, Smart but Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD, and Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults.

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