The article is a subjective view on this topic written by writers specializing in medical writing.
It may reflect on a personal journey surrounding struggles with an illness or medical condition, involve product comparisons, diet considerations, or other health-related opinions.
Although the view is entirely that of the writer, it is based on academic experiences and scientific research they have conducted; it is fact-checked by a team of degreed medical experts, and validated by sources attached to the article.
The numbers in parenthesis (1,2,3) will take you to clickable links to related scientific papers.
Does ADHD Get Worse With Age? Here’s The Answer 2023
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, i.e., ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people of all ages. Doctors typically diagnose people with ADHD in childhood, but many adults have grown up struggling with it. A common concern among most adults with this primary childhood disorder is whether ADHD gets worse with age.
The answer is not straightforward, as there are many factors at play.
ADHD may cause executive function regression as you age, but not always. Yet, reports suggest that untreated ADHD can lead to other mental health conditions like depression and substance use disorders.
So, can age worsen ADHD? Here we identify factors affecting the condition and offer a guide for lifelong management. We also discuss treatment options, coping skills, and support structures like professional help that can help individuals with ADHD lead better lives.
Can ADHD Get Worse With Age?
ADHD symptoms can intensify with age, but it’s not guaranteed. Factors like lifestyle, stress, and medication can impact the condition. Regular monitoring and treatment can help manage symptoms and maintain quality of life.
Common ADHD Symptoms
ADHD affects several brain areas, including reducing prefrontal cortex executive functions like planning, organizing, and decision-making. Its most noticeable symptom in childhood is learning dysfunction; learning involves the amygdala and hippocampus, and depends on the the dopamine reward pathway, with ADHD contributing to difficulties with motivation and reward-seeking behaviors.
It affects the amygdala involved in the emotional regulation of stress, anxiety, and fear. According to a Harvard Medical School study, ADHD affects the hippocampus, important to learning and memory.
ADHD manifests in various ways, and its symptoms affect individuals differently. The three most common symptoms of ADHD are hyperactivity, impulsivity, and short attention. Other psychological ADHD symptoms include depression, anxiety, mood swings, and declining cognition.
Inattention symptoms may manifest as forgetfulness, easy distraction, or difficulty completing tasks. Hyperactivity symptoms are fidgeting, talking excessively, or restlessness. Impulsivity can lead to impulsive behaviors like interrupting others, making hasty decisions, and talking excessively.
These significantly affect daily life, from difficulties in school or work to struggles with personal relationships. Older adults with ADHD may experience low self-esteem, difficulty with organization and time management, and mood swings. When combined with poor lifestyle choices affecting sleep, evidence suggests a heightened risk for deteriorating mental health.
While stimulant medications can help manage symptoms when ADHD peaks, lifestyle changes like regular exercise, stress management, sleep hygiene, elimination dieting, and skills training may also be beneficial. Working with a mental health professional is vital to develop a long-term treatment plan that best suits an individual’s unique needs and circumstances.
Can ADHD Become Worse If Left Untreated?
Untreated ADHD can lead to worsening symptoms over time that manifest in all areas of your life. Another report claims that untreated ADHD increases the likelihood of impulsive acts, car accidents, relationship threats, and substance use disorders.
Therefore, it’s essential to seek professional help to manage your ADHD symptoms to develop coping mechanisms. When you seek medical help, ADHD treatments will be both pharmacological and non-pharmacological. Pharmacological solutions are prescribed ADHD medications like methylphenidate.
Non-pharmacological solutions are meditation, diet, and physical activity, which help manage symptoms to improve your quality of life.
What Causes ADHD To Get Worse?
Your ADHD symptoms can worsen as you get older due to various factors:
Age And Life Changes
As you age, your responsibilities and life circumstances change, which can worsen your ADHD symptoms. Aging slows body systems, including the brain.
There is a decline in memory recall, attention, and communication, so ADHD symptoms might magnify. This is particularly true for those who struggle with adult ADHD, as work demands, relationships, and other responsibilities can become more challenging.
Stress And Lifestyle Factors
High-stress levels, lack of physical activity, a high-sugar and processed-food diet, smoking, and poor sleep can worsen symptoms.
As such, obesity and substance use, and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety can further exacerbate your ADHD symptoms.
Untreated ADHD can cause difficulties in your personal and professional relationships, leading to further stress and worsening symptoms. Thus, it’s important to seek treatment from a health professional.
When Do ADHD Symptoms Get Worse?
Various factors can worsen your ADHD symptoms over time:
- Aging: As someone with ADHD, you may struggle to manage the symptoms, maintain focus, or regulate your emotions as you age. Cognition naturally declines, making ADHD worse.
- Stress: High-stress levels can make your symptoms more difficult to manage, causing you to struggle with attention and focus.
- Life changes: Major changes such as starting a new job or moving to a new location can disrupt your routines and trigger symptoms like restlessness.
- Lack of structure: Without a structured routine or schedule, you may find staying organized and managing your time more challenging.
- Co-occurring conditions: Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression can exacerbate ADHD symptoms, making them more challenging to manage.
- Lack of treatment: Your symptoms of ADHD tend to become more severe without proper treatment, impacting your daily life experiences and relationships.
How To Control ADHD As You Get Older
Since you cannot cure ADHD, you must adjust to living with it. Living with it can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to control your life. Proper management can minimize its effects on living a fulfilling life.
Change Your Mind
- Manage Stress: High-stress levels can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Manage stress through relaxation techniques, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and proper sleep habits.
- Stay Organized: Staying organized can be challenging for kids and adults with ADHD, but it can also help manage symptoms when attained. Use schedules, calendars, to-do lists, sticky notes, and reminders to stay on top of tasks and deadlines.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness meditation and other relaxation techniques in your daily routine can help reduce the stress and anxiety that worsen ADHD symptoms.
Change Your Body
- Exercise Regularly: Physical activity can help reduce symptoms of ADHD and improve overall mental health. Regular exercise can also help you manage stress and regulate your mood.
- Improve Your Diet: A nutritious diet is only one nutritionist consultation away.
- Develop good sleep habits: Getting adequate and quality sleep is vital for managing ADHD symptoms. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, avoid caffeine and electronics before bedtime, and create a relaxing bedtime routine.
Change Your Daily Life
- Build a Support System: Support can be crucial in managing ADHD. Joining a support group or seeking the help of friends and family can provide you with the support you need to stay on track. Building a strong support system of friends, colleagues, and family can also provide valuable encouragement and motivation.
- Develop healthy habits: Exercise, eating a healthy elimination diet, using ADHD supplements, and eliminating alcohol, smoking, and substance abuse can all help improve ADHD symptoms. To succeed, consider working with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized plan for healthy living.
- Use tools and technology: Many apps and tools are available to help you manage your time, stay organized, and improve focus. For example, a digital calendar or task list can help you stay on top of important tasks and deadlines.
- Consider Medication: Medications are often prescribed to manage ADHD symptoms. Talk to your doctor about whether medication is right for you.
The question of whether adult ADHD worsens with age is complex. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, it is clear that ADHD symptoms can worsen over time if left untreated. However, with the right treatment plan and coping mechanisms, managing symptoms effectively and improving quality of life is possible.
It is important to remember that managing ADHD is a lifelong journey with ups and downs.
If you are struggling with ADHD-related challenges and want better outcomes, seeking the support of a health professional can be life-changing. They can work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan, including medication, therapy, or a combination.
Support groups and other helpful resources are available to help you cope with your symptoms and connect with others who understand what you are experiencing.
While ADHD can present unique challenges, you are not alone. With the right tools and support, you can manage your symptoms and live a fulfilling life.
+ 11 sources
Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here
- CDC (2020). Research on ADHD. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/research.html
- Miao, S., Han, J., Gu, Y., Wang, X., Song, W., Li, D., Liu, Z., Yang, J. and Li, X. (2017). Reduced Prefrontal Cortex Activation in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder during Go/No-Go Task: A Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study. Frontiers in Neuroscience, [online] 11. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2017.00367.
- Véronneau-Veilleux, F., Robaey, P., Ursino, M. and Nekka, F. (2022). A mechanistic model of ADHD as resulting from dopamine phasic/tonic imbalance during reinforcement learning. Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, [online] 16. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fncom.2022.849323.
- Tajima-Pozo, K., Yus, M., Ruiz-Manrique, G., Lewczuk, A., Arrazola, J. and Montañes-Rada, F. (2016). Amygdala Abnormalities in Adults With ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, [online] 22(7), pp.671–678. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054716629213.
- Machlin, L., McLaughlin, K.A. and Sheridan, M.A. (2020). Brain Structure Mediates the Association between Socioeconomic Status and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Developmental Science, [online] 23(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12844.
- van Andel, E., ten Have, M., Bijlenga, D., Beekman, A.T.F., de Graaf, R. and Sandra Kooij, J.J. (2020). Combined impact of ADHD and insomnia symptoms on quality of life, productivity, and health care use in the general population. Psychological Medicine, [online] 52(1), pp.36–47. doi:https://doi.org/10.1017/s0033291720001592.
- UF Health, University of Florida Health. (2012). Sleep Hygiene Guidelines. [online] Available at: https://ufhealth.org/shands-sleep-disorders-center/sleep-hygiene-guidelines
- Srichawla, B.S., Telles, C.C., Schweitzer, M. and Darwish, B. (2022). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Substance Use Disorder: A Narrative Review. Cureus. [online] doi:https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.24068.
- Verghese, C. and Abdijadid, S. (2023). Methylphenidate. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482451/
- https://www.facebook.com/NIHAging (2020). How the Aging Brain Affects Thinking. [online] National Institute on Aging. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-aging-brain-affects-thinking
- Cortese, S. and Tessari, L. (2017). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obesity: Update 2016. Current Psychiatry Reports, [online] 19(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-017-0754-1.