Does ADHD Worsen With Age?

For many, the ability to pay attention when it really matters is a challenging task to complete. While anyone can struggle with maintaining focus at times, recurring issues can be indicative of a more concerning issue. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a developmental disorder that impacts the ability of an individual's control and regulation of their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). ADHD can impact success in school, work, and personal relationships.

The disorder is most often diagnosed in childhood, with symptoms typically appearing between ages 3 and 6 (via U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)). With advancements in diagnosis and evaluation, the percentage of school-aged children who have been diagnosed with ADHD has been increasing. There was over a 3% increase in diagnoses between 2003 and 2011. Though the disorder is primarily diagnosed during childhood, the FDA reports that approximately 4% of adults are currently living with ADHD.

ADHD overview

ADHD can present differently depending on the individual's age and environment, according to Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). There are a variety of symptoms that can be present and a combination of several symptoms must be present in a child before age 12 for diagnosis. Professionals distinguish three major types of ADHD diagnoses: inattentive, hyper-impulsive, or combined. 

For individuals with inattentive type ADHD, the primary struggles include an inability to focus, maintain attention, follow instructions, and finish tasks (via FDA). Hyper-impulsive type ADHD presents with difficulty in controlling and regulating behaviors such as interruptions during conversations, constant fidgeting, and difficulty waiting or engaging quietly (via CHADD). Those diagnosed with combined type ADHD present symptoms for diagnosis of both inattentive and hyper-impulsive types. For many individuals, treatment through therapy and medications often reduces some of the more negatively associated symptoms of the disorders. However, these do not necessarily eliminate them completely (via Nationwide Children's Hospital).

Do ADHD symptoms get worse with age?

But does ADHD become worse with age? The short answer is no — not on its own, according to Medical News Today. However, this can be impacted by the individual's diagnosis, treatment, and lifestyle. According to CHADD, both children and adults with ADHD may experience an increase in the frequency, severity, or intensity of the symptoms and side effects as a direct result of increased stress. 

The relationship between stress and ADHD symptoms is a difficult one to address, as they seem to work almost hand in hand. For example, ADHD can create more stressful environments, such as procrastinating on important assignments or not paying attention to doctors' instructions. Additionally, stress can cause ADHD symptoms to become worse (via CHADD). Given that adults are exposed to a higher amount of routine stressors than their younger counterparts, it can create the illusion that ADHD becomes more cumbersome with age. Medical News Today suggests that diagnosis of the disorder, combined with proper treatment, helps to create awareness for the ADHD individual. This can, in turn, help to reduce symptoms.