Until just a few years ago, older adults hardly ever received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Yet, as awareness of the condition among younger people has surged, doctors are beginning to make the diagnosis more often in seniors, as well.
Lenard A. Adler, MD, director of the Adult ADHD Program and professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, tells The Wall Street Journal more people over the age of 60 are coming in with ADHD symptoms. Of the older patients he’s treated, some found him after other psychiatrists were unwilling to treat them.
Doctors don’t believe the actual prevalence of ADHD among older adults has risen or that they are developing the condition as they age. Rather, physicians suspect many seniors have lived their whole lives with the disorder, and only now are getting a diagnosis. Many found ways to manage their symptoms in earlier stages of life, but hit a new hurdle as they aged that prompted a flare-up. Others have recognized the symptoms after a younger relative’s diagnosis.
Dr. Alder says it’s important to distinguish between memory loss and ADHD issues in older adults. “We’re dealing with a population that may have some age-related memory decline,” he says.
In some cases, patients may mistakenly receive a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to dementia. But other times families may be looking for any diagnosis besides cognitive decline. Dr. Adler recalls one family who brought in their loved one hoping it was ADHD and not dementia. The patient, he says, was “having a substantial cognitive decline, and it obviously was dementia. So it can go both ways. It’s important to get the diagnosis right.”
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