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ADD & ADHD Health Center

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Aging and ADHD

ADHD isn't just for kids. Here's what it's like later in life.
By Jen Uscher
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD

ADHD doesn't just affect kids or young adults. If you're an older adult who often feels distracted and disorganized and struggles to complete tasks, it may be worth finding out if you've been living with undiagnosed ADHD.

"I have patients in their 50s, 60s, and early 70s who were never diagnosed before and were prompted to consider ADHD after their child or grandchild got diagnosed. It's highly genetic," says David W. Goodman, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland in Lutherville, Md.

Your doctor will need to take a careful history to find out whether you have ADHD or if your symptoms might be due, for example, to a psychiatric condition such as depression or anxiety.

But if you receive the correct diagnosis and pursue therapy for ADHD, you can manage your symptoms better at any age. "Effective treatment will significantly improve your daily functioning and productivity, which enhances your quality of life," Goodman tells WebMD.

Here's what you need to know about seeking treatment for ADHD later in life.

Is It ADHD, Aging, or Something Else?

Certain medical problems, drug side effects, and even changes related to aging, can mimic the symptoms of ADHD.

Some women feel distracted or forgetful, for instance, during perimenopause or menopause. If menopause-related hormonal changes are the cause of those symptoms, they tend to improve over time.

People with a history of stroke or with hyperthyroidism due to Graves' disease or another condition, or who are taking thyroid medication, may also have trouble paying attention.

And a number of medications -- such as some of those used to treat high blood pressure, pain, or sleep problems -- may cause side effects like memory and concentration problems.

Many psychiatric diagnoses can also mimic the symptoms of ADHD. It’s important to discuss any potential issues with anxiety and depression, or any symptoms, like insomnia, with your doctor.

Though forgetfulness is a potential symptom of ADHD, it can also be a normal part of the aging process -- or a sign of a more serious disorder like mild cognitive impairment or dementia. If your memory problems started occurring relatively recently -- for instance, within the last couple of years -- then they're less likely to be due to ADHD.

In fact, ADHD always begins in childhood. So if you have ADHD as an older adult, "the symptoms would have been lifelong and persistent over the course of your life," Goodman says. In addition to forgetfulness, those symptoms can include being easily distracted, disorganized, fidgety, restless, impulsive, and having trouble focusing, prioritizing, and completing tasks.

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