Does ADHD Get Worse with Age

by | Mar 12, 2014 | ADHD Symptom Control | 24 comments

Does ADHD get worse with age?

That’s an interesting question and one I seem to be getting often these days.

As I wrote in my last blog post ADHD can get worse with menopause for women as a reduction in estrogen impacts brain functioning.

But that doesn’t mean age and ADHD just effects women.

As life progresses both men and women often experience more drastic life changes as well. Loss of loved ones, loss of a job (or retiring), downsizing a home, or illness can also impact our ability to manage our ADHD.

And when ADHD gets worse, life can get much more difficult.

woman reading

Looking at the question straight on it could seem like the easy answer would be yes ADHD gets worse with age.

However, as I think more deeply about the question I realize that saying “Yes, ADHD gets worse with age” may be the easy answer and not necessarily the correct answer.

Yes, memory tends to get worse with age for both men and women; but having a weak memory is only one symptom of Attention Deficit.

By looking deeper at Attention Deficit and age I realize that no, ADHD does not HAVE TO get worse with age. For people who have worked to manage their ADHD and have learned how to deal with it, ADHD can actually get easier.

Why? It’s simple.

With age comes experience and perhaps better coping skills. Many people learn how to navigate through life more smoothly as the years go by.

While this person may not have been able to manage their ADHD as a child, they’ve aged and learned what works for them and what doesn’t.

Is this true for everyone? Of course not. Just as with all challenges in life, for some people ADHD does get worse with age.

Working with an ADHD coach is a wonderful way to find out which methods of managing your ADHD are most effective in your life. I encourage you to find a coach before age becomes an issue. And, even if you are later in life, it is never too late to hire a coach.

For more information about aging and how to manage your ADHD as you age, stay tuned for my next article: Learning to Manage ADHD Later in Life.

24 Comments

  1. Isaac

    I feel like you didn’t really respond to the core issue posed by the question. I would like to know if the severity of the symptoms of ADHD can get worse as you age. It’s well documented that some adults find it goes away naturally, but I would like to know if there are is any precedent for the symptoms to worsen.

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Isaac, ADHD is very situational. If the person’s environment provides the right structure and is strength-focused, ADHD symptoms appear to soften with age. Pop an ADHD adult in the wrong career or life situation (typically poor support structure and brain-care) and ADHD symptoms will worsen. People do what I call ‘hit the wall’. Something happens in life that makes the ADHD much worse. A new job, divorce, becoming a parent, retirement, etc. This can make ADHD seem worse. It’s not an age issue but a life issue. A sticky point for many women is around menopause – decrease in Estrogen impacts memory and brain function – which can flare ADHD symptoms with age. Retirement often provides little structure which also make ADHD symptoms worse. I hope this answers your question better. If not, let me know and I’ll give it another try. Thanks, Dana

      Reply
      • Amy

        Hi Dana, My name is Amy and I am 23 years old. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was in the 5th grade but I always knew I had trouble learning before that. I was so embarrassed about it to the point where I would take other kids homework in after school program to take it home and copy, then I would bring them both back to school the next day. I didn’t want to go to the class with the kids that needed extra help because I didn’t want everyone to know. Eventually they caught on and my mom took me to a building where they gave me a test and diagnosed me. They told my mom they wanted me to take medication but my mom refused because she said it makes kids like zombies. The older that I get the more I feel like it’s been taking a troll on me because I just comply gave up in school. I would guessed on all my school work. Got F’s on my report card until eventually I dropped out in the 10th grade. I say it’s become a troll on me because I could barely read out loud, I don’t know anything about math, I’m ALWAYS forgetting everything, I think so fast when I talk to people that I just mess up my words and it’s just embarrassing. I have a 4 year old daughter now and I’m SO scared for her to start school because I don’t want to be that parent that can’t help with homework because I don’t know the answers. I’m currently in a relationship and I’m starting to feel like my ADHD has kind of been starting problems in my between us because I’m constantly forgetting things and I honestly don’t have a lot of knowledge on anything important. He tells me I’m air headed when I’m around people and I need to read more all of the time. I try to read but it’s so hard for me to concentrate and actually take in anything that I did read. This is what made me want to google this question because I honestly don’t know what to do anymore. Can you please give me some advice on what I could do to help with my mental disability.

        Reply
        • Dana Rayburn

          Hi Amy, when I read your phrase “mental disability” I stepped back. You see, I don’t think I have a mental disability. But then I remembered that untreated ADHD IS a mental disability. Many people with ADHD have learning disabilities as well as attention disabilities. (I have a math disability (numbers just don’t make sense and I can do more than basic math in my head). Poor concentration and retention of what was read is typical ADHD. If you’re not paying attention to the information how can you remember it? Anyway, get help. See a doctor. A therapist, too. Stop trying to push through and work harder to have a different brain. The right dose of the right medication will not make you (or a child) into a zombie. Sending hugs and all best wishes, Dana

          Reply
        • Kaden

          Start looking into the actual symptoms of ADHD and you’ll be surprised how many symptoms there are. I just recently got prescribed focalin xr and I’m not a zombie at all. Don’t get me wrong ADHD meds are expensive but I think they are worth every penny, and you can find coupons for ADHD meds online. If you really want it to get better as soon as possible start your meds and try hard to implement structure and stability into your life. It gets easier to do that when you’re medicated, DO NOT overwhelm yourself. Wait until you get the right dosage of medication before you try to pile anything else on top of that. It’s harder to stay on top of things when you haven’t found something that works for you (I. E.) The right dosage of medicine. If your doctor asks you if you have anxiety let them know that ADHD can cause all kinds of anxiety and you want to try the meds anyway (it’s true)

          Reply
      • Nanci

        Can you recommend a Dr in my area?

        Reply
        • Dana Rayburn

          Hi Nanci, I can’t help you find a doctor in your area. Please check the CHADD.org web site. They may have some postings of professionals.

          Reply
        • Alexa

          Hi. Just diagnosed with ADD. My doctor prescribed Amphet/dextro. Seems to help with focus, but hard to sleep and losing my hair to point I now have bald spots.
          Is there difference medications that don’t have these side effects? How does one find a behavioral therapist?

          Reply
          • Dana Rayburn

            Alexa, Please talk to you doctor. These aren’t acceptable side effects!

  2. Steve

    I was diagnosed with ADHD only recently, at the age of 61. My diagnosis came about because I was finding it more and more difficult doing things at work and at home. My memory was getting worse, and my father had just died after suffering dementia. So, I thought I’d find out what was going on with me, in case it was an early onset. Throughout my life, I seem to have done ok, but not as well as I would’ve liked. Some would see me as odd, but I managed to get through the critisms by digging a pit for them to go into. So, without knowing it, I had crudely developed coping measures to help me get by. Now, this is where it comes to the question. I would say that as you get older, it looks like it’s getting worse symptom wise, but that’s only because you are less able to deal with it, and life’s tipping points wear away at those crude coping measures you’ve developed. I would say that had I had the proper skills to deal with this condition, and had been aware of it, I would now be in a better place, and more able to deal with it.

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Steve, I’m glad you’ve figured out what’s going on. Yes, if you’d gotten help earlier you would be in a better place now. At least now you know!Good luck, Dana

      Reply
  3. dorothy

    my son has had attention deficit disorder since birth. School was a big problem for him (and for me) I dealt with teacher and schools all thru 8th grade but he still hadnt learned how to spell, read or write properly. h e has suffered all his 60 years of life from this lack of learning and social skills. H e now \takes medicine and sees a psycologist and is on SS Disability but prior to this had worked as a truck driver and supported himself til almost 60 years but feels terrible for himself. He also has medical problems with which to deal with. I can say he has tried to help himself the past 3-4 years but continues to feel akward in social activity.I am proud of how he has taken responsibility for me when I am 97 years old. What can I tell him to show that I love him and know that he is better

    How do i

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Dorothy, my heart goes out to your son. ADHD wasn’t often diagnosed 60 years ago. I think the best thing you can do is tell him how proud your are of him. Thank him for his support. Blessings to you both, Dana

      Reply
      • Cejay

        It definitely gets worse with age.
        I was diagnosed 9 years ago at age 39 & with the help of meds have (just) managed to get by in the kind of job I always wanted – i.e. one with little social interaction & pleasant colleagues – unlike the kind of lower-paid jobs I’d always done previously, where I struggled with the multiple daily face-to-face interactions & tended to get bullied by colleagues for being ‘different’ (I have ASD also).
        However in the last year or so I’ve been very perimenopausal & the meds have become far less effective. I’m finding myself increasingly in similar situations to those I found myself in as a teenager: losing everything, unable to start tasks, forgetting what I’m doing, and generally unable to order my thoughts into some coherent format to the point of utter incompetence. This had got much better in my mid-20s, but now I’m back at square one again.
        I have asked for assistance from my psych but there’s nothing available & I can’t afford to go private, so it looks like I’ll have to go back to the kind of jobs I am just about able to do regardless of executive dysfunction , but where I was paid peanuts & felt so depressed I was at times suicidal. I almost wish I’d never been diagnosed at all, as all it’s done is given me a taste of normalcy that has once again slipped out of reach.

        Reply
        • Dana Rayburn

          Oh Cejay, I’m sad you’re struggling so much. For me, perimenopause was challenging until I started taking Evening Primrose Oil (this is not a recommendation; just sharing what I did) and exercising and reducing sugar. After menopause it’s been much better. I wish you all the best to get your brain and your life back. Dana

          Reply
        • Barb

          I am 51 and diagnosed last year. I am also in the middle of peri menopause. This has only aggravated the situation and now I have severe trouble at work and home. On the brink of losing my job and husband. I haven’t gotten therapy because like so many medical things, it is too expensive. Any suggestions?

          Reply
          • Dana Rayburn

            Hey Barb, I’m so sorry you’re struggling. Those can be tough years. If it’s the perimenopause that is making things worse, focus on softening those symptoms. Diet, exercise, supplements really helped me. Good luck, Dana

    • Patrick

      I’m not a professional, but i see you mentioned social problems and learning, and those are common symptoms of autism. Try looking into that just in case, because ADHD is common in people with autism and it has a wide range of severity. I have no clue because I don’t know your son of course, but it’s a possibility. Have a nice day!

      Reply
  4. Derek Swain

    Thank you for mentioning how ADHD can become more manageable over time if you have the experience and understanding needed to handle it. I remember my wife mentioning how her brother has been unable to find a job due to his ADHD, and he needs to find a way to control himself since he will be living alone starting next month. Maybe he should find a professional that can help him with his ADHD.

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth

    Hi, I wanted to thank the original person that asked the question. I’m 55 years old and I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was 52.

    I look back to when I was younger and the problems concentrating or even wanting to be in school. It makes sense that I always have had this disease.

    I happen to agree with your answer too. I was able to control on my own what life had to give me. I had a life altering illness, death of my brother, injury to my son-and I was hanging on.

    I had to have a hysterectomy at age 48. At that time my now ex husband started to verbally and emotionally abuse me. That’s when I can honestly say I started to really feel that I wasn’t handling it.

    Finally at 52 he walked out on myself and our son. I wasn’t doing well mentally from it. And I went to get help with handling my divorce. It was that doctor who asked if I had ever been tested for ADHD. I had not.

    I have been on my own now for 3 years. I feel like every day it gets worse. As much as I hate to admit, my ex was so controlling that it kept my mind working with the ADHD.

    I struggle a great deal with the ADHD. But interestingly enough this man I was married to for 28 years-I’m happier without him. I was in denial about his abuse.

    My question concerns managing ADHD with medications if you already have a illness that cause you to take pain meds. I was told by one doctor that he won’t increase my ADHD meds to help me think because he feels the pain meds work against them and it’s a loss cause.
    A different doctor said that’s not true.

    Do you know the answer?

    Thanks for your great answers to above situations.

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Elizabeth, your story touched my heart. Thank you for sharing what you’ve been through. I have not heard that about ADHD medication and pain meds. However, I am NOT a doctor. My experience is from training from doctors. I recommend you get a third opinion. Wishing you all the best, Dana

      Reply
  6. D kerr

    Hi my daughter was diagnosed with adhd when she was younger and was put on meds but she was a bit like a zombie so we took her off them .its been really hard work bringing her up and now she is 23 with her own son age 2 and I’m starting to notice her moods lately have gotten worse WoT would be the thing to do for her

    Reply
  7. Ron

    Well, for me, My ADHD inattentive type, is let out of the box I’ve kept it in by years of developing skills to navigate work (elementary teacher), and relationships. Now, I am retired, widowed, living solo without a relationship and am having the best life I’ve ever lived. I can be as spontaneous, and scattered or untethered as I want to be as I follow my muse. You know that saying? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, if I have ADHD and no one is around, and I have no deadlines, commitments, or meetings to attend, do I have ADHD?
    Ron

    Reply
    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Ron, when your life and environment are a beautiful fit, ADHD isn’t a problem. That’s why it’s essential for people with ADHD to set their lives up right. Go you! Dana

      Reply

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