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ADHD affects 3% of over-60s

Dutch study finds attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) disorder does not disappear with age
By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
 senior man with doctor

9th August 2012 - Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ( ADHD) is often seen as a condition affecting children and young people, however according to the first study of its kind, it also affects around 3% of over-60s.

Lead researcher of the Dutch study, Marieke Michielsen said in a press release: "ADHD affects 3-7% of school-aged children, and about 4.4% of adults. However, little is known about ADHD in old age and this is the first epidemiological study on ADHD in older people."

One ADHD charity says the Netherlands is ahead of the UK in diagnosis of ADHD at all ages, so there could be similar numbers of over-60s in the UK with ADHD. Many of them will not have been diagnosed as having the condition.

The ADHD study

The study says adults with ADHD often work below their intellectual level, have problems in relationships, problems organising their daily lives, are more likely to have accidents and more often display antisocial behaviour than adults without ADHD.

1,494 people between the ages of 60 and 94 who were part of the Longitudinal Ageing Study Amsterdam, participated in the new study. All were given a questionnaire to screen for ADHD and 231 of those, who showed the most symptoms, were invited for a longer, structured diagnostic interview.

The researchers estimate the prevalence of ADHD in older adults in The Netherlands to be 2.8% - equating to roughly 95,000 people. The prevalence was higher in ‘younger-olds’ aged 60-70 (4%) compared to ‘older-olds’ aged 70-94 (2.1%). The younger-olds reported having significantly more ADHD symptoms than the older-olds.

Psychologist Marieke Michielsen, of PsyQ Expertise Centre Adult ADHD  in the Hague, says: "There are several possible explanations for this. One may be that people’s symptoms of ADHD diminish with increasing age. Other explanations may be that the diagnostic interview used is not sensitive enough to detect ADHD in people over 70, or even that people with ADHD have a lower life expectancy compared to people without ADHD."

Previous studies of ADHD in children and adults have suggested that ADHD is more common among men than women but in this study, both men and women reported similar amounts of ADHD symptoms.

Reaction

Andrea Bilbow is CEO of the ADHD charity ADDISS. She tells BootsWebMD many over 60s in the UK have undiagnosed ADHD: "We really battled for years just getting people to recognise it in children. And we still face an enormous amount of scepticism and stigma around the diagnosis of ADHD in children."

She says ADHD can be a lifelong condition. "These children hit 16, 17, 18 and they just fall over the edge. Services drop away. They drop out of school, they drop out of college. A lot of them end up in trouble with the law. The lucky ones make it through."

Guidelines from The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) now cover diagnosis of ADHD in both children and adults. "That's really helped things to change," Andrea Bilbow says. "Very slowly we've got psychiatrists who are taking on board that it goes on into [adulthood], and are providing services."

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