Brain Health

Your ADHD Life: Symptoms & Strategies for Older Adults

Strategies for coping with attention deficit may become less effective as you age. Try these new approaches for managing symptoms in later life.

A woman with ADHD gets support from her husband.
A woman with ADHD gets support from her husband.

Little is known about how ADHD affects older adults. The current consensus among researchers is that ADHD symptoms persist into later life, and that the strategies for managing symptoms are less effective as a person’s brain ages. If your strategies don’t work as well as they did, here are some great tips for optimizing your ADHD brain.

Monitor ADHD Meds

A physician experienced in treating ADHD in adults should monitor your medications, and you should check in regularly with him. While these medications are safe if used properly, they can cause side effects that are dangerous if not controlled. These side effects include elevated heart rate and blood pressure, insomnia, agitation, hypervigilance, mania, depression, or personality change. These are all reversible, as long as you are under a doctor’s care and you let him know what’s going on.

Serve Up Brain Food

A diet low in saturated fats and calories and high in vegetables and fiber may reduce the risk of developing dementia. It can also improve your focus and decrease the mood swings that sugar brings on. ADHD research suggests that your mother may have been ahead of her time when she dispensed cod liver oil to you and told you that fish is “brain food.” Take fish oil, if you are not doing so already; it has been shown, in some cases, to improve focus in those with ADHD.

Create Time for Learning

As they age, adults with ADHD, “masters of the now,” lose some of their ability to process in the moment. You’ll need to rely more on ADHD-friendly calendars, apps, and the like to stay organized. In addition, put on your to-do list learning new things, like chess or bridge or Spanish.

Exercise Your Heart and Head

Exercise calms the ADHD brain and benefits your heart. It also reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression, which often accompany ADHD. Twenty minutes a day of aerobic exercise, such as fast walking, will serve your brain well. But don’t stop there. Ballroom dancing or martial arts are fun, and each activity taxes the brain by forcing it to coordinate multiple body parts. This improves focus in people with ADHD.

Train Your Brain

Some clinicians believe that cognitive stimulation sustains function, reducing the risk of age-related cognitive decline. Computerized training programs have replaced crossword puzzles as the way to keep the brain sharp. Pearson’s Cogmed (cogmed.com), Posit Science’s Brain Fitness (positscience.com), and Web-based games from Lumosity (lumosity.com) are popular.

Stay Connected

Write or call one friend a week, and go out regularly with friends. Put it on your to-do list, next to laundry and grocery shopping. Join a club that centers on a hobby you love. The meetings will motivate you to get out more.

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