Adult ADHD may triple risk of dementia

Adults who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are almost three times more likely to develop dementia in older age, research has revealed.

ADHD has traditionally been associated with children, particularly overactive young boys. But the condition is being recognised more and more in adults of both genders. In Australia, it’s estimated to occur in seven per cent of the population and affects one in 20 adults.

What is ADHD?

Adults with ADHD generally have difficulty controlling their attention. They may have trouble concentrating for long periods, are easily distracted or even the polar opposite – hyperfocusing on one subject to the detriment of all other responsibilities.

That can lead to problems in their broader lives, particularly their work and relationships.

How is it treated?

ADHD is usually treated with a combination of medication, psychological counselling and education, depending on the severity of symptoms. These methods will help manage ADHD symptoms, but they won’t cure them.

The medications most commonly used to treat ADHD are stimulants such as dexamphetamine, but can also include antidepressants.

Documents from the Department of Health show prescriptions for medicines related to ADHD have been on the rise, with 1.4 million prescriptions written in 2018 and 3.2 million written in 2022.

ADHD and dementia

Now, a new study has demonstrated that untreated ADHD in adults may also greatly increase the risk of developing dementia in later life.

The study followed more than 100,000 adults over 17 years, analysing people both with and without ADHD between 2003 and 2020. Incidences of dementia were also tracked in the subjects as they aged.

The researchers discovered those with untreated adult ADHD were almost 2.77 times more likely to go on to develop dementia than those without ADHD. This increased risk held up even when other risk factors for dementia were taken into account, such as cardiovascular conditions, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

But crucially, the data also revealed adults with ADHD who had been treated with psychostimulant medication did not have this increased risk.

The researchers theorise the link between the two conditions may be because the brains of people with ADHD are overworked, and have less ability to compensate for natural age-related cognitive decline compared with a neurotypical adult.

Professor Adam Reichenberg, lead author of the study, says the results show diagnosing ADHD in adults is important, and starting treatment for the condition just as important.

“Physicians, clinicians and caregivers who work with older adults should monitor ADHD symptoms and associated medications,” he says.

Do you recognise any ADHD symptoms in yourself? Have you ever been tested for ADHD? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Even short walks can reduce depression symptoms

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