ADHD in Older Adults

I Feared I Had Alzheimer’s. It Turns Out It Was Undiagnosed ADHD.

“Ironically, it was my Twitter habit that pulled me out of my ‘do I have Alzheimer’s’ funk. Because I have kids with ADHD, I follow #ADHD Twitter. And one day, I started to recognize some of the things adults with ADHD were saying about their own lives. It finally dawned on me: Maybe it wasn’t Alzheimer’s. Maybe my kids had ADHD because I had ADHD.”

A senior woman in her 60s at home, sitting in a messy, cluttered room, looking away with a serious expression.
A senior woman in her 60s at home, sitting in a messy, cluttered room, looking away with a serious expression.

One evening, I stuffed a bag of powdered sugar into a kitchen drawer, then spent an hour trying to figure out what happened to it. My husband found it the next morning in the utensil drawer and thought it was funny. I thought it might be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

I was 49 when this happened, though misplacing things wasn’t a new experience for me. I’ve spent most of my life buying products I already own because I could never find them when needed. But the powdered sugar thing was disturbing. When I thought back, I had a foggy recollection of watching my hands stuff the bag into the drawer, but it was dreamy and weird, like something my brain was remembering through a wall of plaque and tangles.

There were other disturbing things, too, like reaching for words that should have come easily. And bigger things, like completely forgetting to pick up my 14-year-old from her after-school activity.

Do I Have Alzheimer’s? Genetic Concerns

Both my grandmothers died from Alzheimer’s disease. I watched my maternal grandmother decline in bits and pieces when I went home on holidays. She asked the same questions over and over and said things that were out of character. When my paternal grandmother died from the same condition, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s it. I guess I’m going out that way, too.”

Meanwhile, I was raising four kids with either diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obvious-but-undiagnosed ADHD. My house usually looked like someone dumped an oversized stuffed trash bag on the floor and then used a broom to spread it around. Staying on top of my kids’ schedules was difficult; staying on top of housework was impossible.

[Free Guide: Recognize the Symptoms of ADHD in Adults]

After my husband found the powdered sugar in the utensil drawer, I Googled “dementia self-tests,” then spent a couple of days making lists, describing common household objects, and drawing lines between numbers and letters. None of those pointed to anything alarming, but just in case, I made an appointment with my doctor. Then I chickened out. Maybe I didn’t really want to know if I had Alzheimer’s disease.

From Alzheimer’s Concerns to a Mid-Life ADHD Diagnosis

Ironically, it was my Twitter habit that pulled me out of my “do I have Alzheimer’s” funk. Because I have kids with ADHD, I follow #ADHD Twitter. And one day, I started to recognize some of the things adults with ADHD were saying about their own lives. It finally dawned on me: Maybe it wasn’t Alzheimer’s. Maybe my kids had ADHD because I had ADHD.

I got my diagnosis just after my 50th birthday, and I learned that ADHD in older people sometimes mimics the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment. Forgetting words, misplacing things, occasionally blanking out completely — these ADHD symptoms can become more pronounced as you age, and can look a lot like cognitive decline.

In the nine months or so since I started taking ADHD medication, things are different. I’ve mostly avoided putting baking supplies in inappropriate places. I still sometimes need to replace stuff that’s gone missing, and sometimes I still reach for words. But, for the most part, I’m more focused, more organized, and less forgetful. My symptoms don’t scare me anymore.

[Read: ADHD in Older Adults — Distinct Diagnostic and Treatment Considerations]

My messy house, I admit, still scares me. Medication can’t fix everything.

Do I Have Alzheimer’s or ADHD? Next Steps


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