Ask the Experts

Does ADHD Get Worse With Old Age?

“I’m curious about the effect of old age on ADHD. Do symptoms tend to level off or get progressively worse with age? Is ADHD linked to Alzheimer’s?

Adult attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) has been widely recognized only in the last dozen years, so, at this point, we have little research on how aging impacts ADHD.

As a psychologist who has worked with older adults with ADHD, my clinical impression is that symptoms can become more problematic in old age and post-retirement. We know that, at every age, structure and routine are helpful in managing ADHD symptoms. But as adults grow older and retire, many of their habits and routines fall away. There is no evidence that ADHD is linked to Alzheimer’s, however.

When working with older adults, I advise them to develop and stick to daily and weekly routines. Although some physicians are reluctant to prescribe stimulant medication to older adults, I think it can be used safely and effectively by most older patients as long as they receive a careful medical checkup before starting medication, as the drugs pose higher risks for people with cardiac complications.

[ADHD and Alzheimer’s: Are These Diseases Related?]

9 Comments & Reviews

  1. A recentAsian study found a 3.4 times greater risk of dementia ( or was that 34%) in a gifted with ADHD group, than a control group .

    I posted the ollowing a few minutes ago on another, news letter article.but it is equally applicable here.

    Self diagnosed 2 years ago at 70 confirmed by my MD., after starting Venlafaxine treatment for Major Depression, my third wife was planning to leave and packing one box at a time placing it in the dining room. Both my adult son and adult grandson were on adhd meds.
    The Venlafaxine produced Tremendous improvement over time in feel good feelings (about myself) , memory, explosiveness, misplacing things .Unfortunately, a lifelong habit of tackling the hardest most disliked jobs on my list first, faded, along with my energy. I still occasionally lose and forget things. I still runoff at the mouth. And i still have limited control over those immediate retorts that sometimes unintentionally hurt others.. Other times they elicit roars of laughter intentionally and comments of “How do you think of those so fast”. (If they only knew ) A Minimum dose of Concerta xr was tried but i became more aggressive and am just taking the Venlafaxine xr now. (Good thing as I had open heart surgery a few months ago) That foggy feeling has totally disappeared.
    At work many of the questionable characteristics such as timeliness and forgetfulness and organization were delegated, the problems of being fired were solved by being an independent consultant to many clients and ultimately founding my own company. Sale of the company eventually became essential as my angry bursts were much more often and at people who were essential to the success of the business. Consequentially, Retirement at 60 exposed all of those weaknesses
    After 10 more years of struggle it is safe to say the last 2 have been the best years of my life. Given that dopamine is one of our neurotransmitters in short supply I have joined two more choral groups which brings me to three choirs and 5 days a week of practices and performances. Singing in groups tremendously increases your dopamine production. It also increases your social calendar which when living alone after retirement and divorce is a godsend.
    As to those peccadillos of not achieving everything i want to or appropriately , i am no longer gravely concerned, and accept that some things wont be accomplished. And some characteristics are what make us interesting and unique. And when I blow up at an apparently offensive email at
    1 am in the morning and fire off a wtf response, i accept the consequence of being cut from the “gold ” choir, single performance. Damn Now i wont get that free T-shirt from my fourth one off choir. No worries though. The other 999 performers wont miss me..and I have more than enough on my plate.


    1. To Donsense:

      I can definitely relate to most of what you said. I have been taking Venlafaxine for about five years now. It has helped me stay calm and relaxed. I used to have terrible anxiety attacks, even in front of family and friends. I was only diagnosed with ADHD about three years ago. I only wish I had known about this condition much earlier in my life. It definitely explains why I did so poorly all through my education years.

      Over the last three years, I have learned so much about ADHD, from this wonderful ADDitude website’s newsletters plus other resources I have found. I recently began therapy twice monthly, which I never had before. My wife divorced me over seven years ago, after almost 40 years of marriage, due in part to my ADHD symptoms and a severe depression episode. Now that I have moved on with my life (I’m currently age 70), and away from where we lived, to a wonderful retirement place (Prescott, AZ), my life has improved 100% and I’m also much healthier mentally and physically.

      All I can say is…..hang in there baby!

  2. Dosense, I was intrigued to read your article. I have been involved romantically with a man of 65 for five years – and knew him socially for about 3 years before that. He drinks and smokes heavily, which he manages to hide from most people. I had no idea, but gradually “found him out”. I have struggled to understand his excessive anxiety, his over-sensitiveness to the least hint of criticism, his explosive outbursts and mood swings, his bearing grudges and inability to forgive easily, his impetuosity and inability to handle money, and other strange behaviour – thinking it was the effect of the alcohol or withdrawal from it (he never drinks/smokes when I am there), but I now wonder if he has undiagnosed ADHD. All the symptoms seem to fit, and it all makes sense. He was a lawyer, but was struck off for poor choices over money, became bankrupt, had a nervous breakdown, lost his license to drunk driving, and then lost his home and family. We are at the moment not in contact, since he got angry with me when I went to stay a few weeks ago over something trivial, and he threw me out – something that has happened often in the past. My dilemma now is – do I let him “stew in his own juice” and leave him be, or do I keep on in there and try to talk to him? I do want to help, but he pushes me away. He has now blocked my phones since the last angry outburst. I’ve sent emails but I’m not sure they are getting through, and he has not replied to them. I feel he should discuss things with his doctor or a counsellor, but I’m afraid he won’t listen to reason and get angry again. How can I get him to take this all seriously and look for help? He agrees that it is not good that he drinks so much and has said he would love to give it up and live a “normal” life. Should I pursue this and try to get him to see someone for help? We live long-distance, so it is not easy to just pop in to see him. He has no close friends except his female neighbour with whom he drinks and gets paralytic. He buys her booze and thinks she is a wonderful friend, even though she has poisoned him against me with lies. What would you suggest, please? Would you, yourself, appreciate knowing that someone cares about you? Or would it make you anxious? Should I just turn up on the doorstep and say we need to talk things through? If I say I am coming, it usually makes him very anxious, unless he has had time to prepare for my visit in advance by tidying up and washing the bedding – and he often cancels at the last minute with an excuse – probably because he is on a bender. I would really appreciate your input. I’m going for counselling myself this week, so that will be interesting. I am also attending a training course to become a telephone counsellor. Please let me hear from you. Lorna

    1. As with anything else–driving, drugs, depression, ADHD–you can only say you will be there, ready, waiting, and willing, when THEY decide to get help and when THEY decide to make the change. You cannot make that change for them. Believe me, I KNOW THIS. I have been the one waiting, and I’ve been the one someone’s waited on. I got the help. They didn’t.

      The best thing you can do for yourself right now, is go to your counseling, and stay OUT of this relationship. I know that’s not what you want to hear, and it may well be the hardest thing you have to do. But this relationship will NOT change until your partner knows a change must be made. It won’t matter what you say, what you do, or how long you stick around. I think you’re right–he likely does have ADHD and is self-medicating. But that also is something you cannot change. I wish you the very best of luck, and keep up with your counselor. I know from experience that you need it.

  3. Not diagnosed, but…
    I have noticed: In the last few years since the onset of an autoimmune condition that saps my mental and physical strength, my “non-ADD” seems worse or at least more pronounced/stronger the more tired I get. Food and diet can play roles in both ADD and autoimmune health, so I have been reading, studying, taking notes. Do you think for the life of me that I could remember more than a few hours what I’ve learned? “No, Bert, you don’t want that anymore…you’ll feel icky or get a rash…”
    But I forget. Or I really want potato chips and a hot dog (because everyone else is and I’m so hungry and I’m not going to grow antlers, right?).

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