Choosing Professionals

When I’m 64: Why ADHD Treatment Gets Tougher with Age

Many aging adults with ADHD must jump through hoops to receive the treatment they deserve. Are you one of them?

Older adults driving in a rural area. Those with a late diagnosis can have struggle to find ADHD treatment.

A woman living in the rural South got wind of my research about older adults and attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) and contacted me with a heartfelt plea for help. Marjorie had read about adult ADHD when she was in her early 50s, and quickly recognized that many ADHD patterns paralleled her own life experiences.

Like many adults with ADHD, Marjorie had led a long and winding life with numerous stops along the way, including one as a part-time university professor. She and her husband lived on and managed the family farm.

The Downside of Not Having Access to ADHD Meds

A very resourceful person, she went out of her way to seek a formal diagnosis by a clinical psychologist who was a two-hour drive from the farm. Then, through her network of friends and associates, she was able to find a physician in her remote area willing to prescribe stimulants to her as an adult in her early 50s. As she described it, “a light turned on” the first time she took stimulants. Suddenly she could see the tasks before her, prioritize them, and begin to accomplish each task. Hers was an ADHD success story.

Against long odds, she had found a mental health professional, was carefully diagnosed, and then found a local physician who was willing to prescribe stimulant medication. So began a fruitful partnership between Marjorie and her doctor that lasted many years.

Seventeen years later, however, her success story was crumbling. The physician who had been her prescriber announced her retirement. Now in her late 60s, Marjorie set out to find a new physician, but she could find no one who would consider treating a woman at her age. Some didn’t believe ADHD existed in older adults. Some didn’t believe that she could have ADHD, since she had an advanced academic degree. Others wouldn’t take the “risk,” as they saw it, to prescribe stimulants to an older adult who may experience cardiac or other complications.

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

Older Adults Lose Their ADHD Treatment Options

All of this led to her reaching out to me. “What am I to do?” she asked. “Running a farm with my husband is no mean feat. There are things to take care of from dawn to dusk, and I am sinking fast, back into that place of overwhelm and confusion where I lived for so long before I started taking stimulants. Furthermore, my mother lived to age 95. I can’t imagine having to function for 25 more years without the help of stimulants.”

Although Marjorie’s challenge in finding treatment was increased by the fact that she lived in a rural area, this challenge is experienced every day by older adults across the country. The result is that we have a large and growing group of adults in their 60s and beyond who were diagnosed with ADHD in middle age, have benefited from stimulants, and are finding that treatment doors are closing as they enter their older years.

What’s more, adults who aren’t diagnosed until their later years may face a greater dilemma. While some physicians are willing to continue prescribing stimulants to those with a prescription history, newly diagnosed older adults are met with skepticism. “At your age, why are you even worried about ADHD?” many ask.

Find a Doctor Who Knows ADHD

  • If you have younger family members (children or grandchildren) who are being treated for ADHD, contact their care provider for an appointment. This provider will certainly be aware of the highly genetic nature of ADHD and the likelihood that you, like your offspring, could benefit from medication.
  • Become active in your local CHADD group, helping to form a local support group for older adults. There is strength in numbers. With more of you looking for providers, your chances of finding one will increase.
  •  Consider traveling to a larger metro area, where it may be easier to find a provider. Start treatment with this provider with a plan to seek treatment locally once your diagnosis and positive response to medication has been established.
  •  Educate your physician about medication and ADHD in older adults. David Goodman, M.D., hosted a webinar on this topic for ADDitude magazine.

[Your Expert Overview: Choosing the Right Professional to Treat ADHD]

Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Specialist Panel.

Updated on May 17, 2019

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  1. I found this to be true for me I just started taking stimulants as an adult over 60 yrs old. I wish I would have sooner. It did take a lot of persistence to find a Dr. who thought it would be a good thing for me to do. I am still working and I wonder if after I retire, especially as I plan to move away from the Dr. I now see if I will be able to get medication. I did a lot of phone calling and searching for help before I found it.

  2. This is interesting as it illustrates the ‘catch 22’ quality of seeking help as a woman in her 60s. Unless you lived next door to a successful ADHD healthcare provider, and gave him cookies and milk when he/she was growing up, you aren’t likely to find a friendly, accepting face in mental healthcare.

    During my whole childhood, my symptoms were blamed on me, and I could not become what all my loved and admired friends and family urged me to become, and said “you could do it if you just tried!”

    Early adulthood saw me lock myself into a route that said “I’ll show you how hard I can try, I’ll become perfect” Cheers from the friends and family department, so long as I don’t hold anyone responsible for all the rejections and bullying I navigated around, while trying to be the perfect child, adult, and parent.

    Fast Forward, I’m raising a boy with ADHD, and must accept that he is apart from the norm, and it is likely my fault, either genetically or behavior related. I am not rich, but make a good wage as an RN. I can afford his treatment, since I sacrifice for it, but can’t afford to seek diagnosis when I realize what has been missing in my own life all these years.

    Get him raised, and then consider what is likely causing most of my emotional trials now. My parents lived well into their 90s. I have a lot of years left, and would like to be happy. I may have to deal with this completely without the help of any professional, since I am now considered to be too old for consideration or treatment. (as in, why don’t you just die and get out of my office?)

    So now I’m left with seeking a friend. I understand what has been amiss all these years, but if I go to a doctor, I will be rejected once again, or treated for a while, but then the doc who stuck his neck out retires, and I’m likely to only find docs who will NOT stick neck out, and reject my quest, or call me a demented pill-seeker.

    I actually only seek a friend who will talk without judgment. A friend who will listen and exchange information. I have had friends like this but as we age, they die, or move away, or stop caring.

    I’m lucky to have a spouse who does understand, but the catch 22 includes that he has ADHD also, and an impressive amount of baggage that was ALSO not addressed in his youth. We’re both invested in living without emotional pain, but it’s very hard to avoid triggering each other’s PTSD, or RSD, or whatever the wash of agony that keeps on hurting is currently called. We have only each other. So we soldier on, trying to figure it all out for ourselves.

    I raised a child, who is almost 50, who is now a psychologist/counselor. I know he is a good one, but hey, he is my kid, and I don’t want him to know about my troubles.

    I’ve been to therapists off and on in my life, and recognize that a therapist has to ‘fit’ or does not help. A therapist who denies or belittles my carefully researched and lifelong search for answers, will only set me back and cost me the price of his ‘hour’.

    I don’t want pills, only an ear, but those ears are very hard to find. You’re more likely to run into an intellectual snob who will not listen. And this is not an age of respect for seniors. I’m just ‘sayin’.

    1. I am working on a documentary can you direct me to a resource for adults over 60 with ADHD who are having a difficult time getting medications because they are getting older. I have ADHD am older but do not take medication. Any help would be appreciated.

  3. Dear Newtry011:

    I understand your concerns: I will soon be 63 years of age and get my ADD meds from a community mental health clinic. My psychiatrist didn’t blink an eye – either it was my 6″ record or the fact that practically any mental illness known to man passes through. Anyway, I check in here periodically and I would be happy to be a listening ear. Despite medication, my ADD (because I am seriously spacey and out of focus) seems to have gotten worse as I get older. Sometimes it seems like early dementia. It would be very helpful to talk about this; I am trying to differentiate the two and it is stressful. Please don’t give up on getting your meds back; the difference in the quality of life cannot be overrated. See if your son can give you a heads-up on an appropriate health care provider. There is no need to try to hide your difficulties. He probably has seen them all along and was just waiting for you to ask for help. I also agree with your assessment of a match with a therapist I have been going to my present mental health clinic for more than nine years, and I have finally found one who “gets” it. I have made more progress with him than I have in all of the time I have going there. What I think helps that he is a little older than I am and he is also experiencing all of the aches and pains and mental changes that accompany growing older. Keep your chin up and eventually things will work out. I guarantee it!

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