Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) typically does not get worse with age if a person is aware of their symptoms and knows how to manage them.

Some people only receive a diagnosis of ADHD when they are adults, as their parents, caregivers, or doctors may not have recognized their symptoms when they were children.

Untreated ADHD could place a person at higher risk of developing mental health conditions, such as depression. It could also result in them having issues forming and maintaining relationships and succeeding in education.

In this article, we discuss whether ADHD can worsen with age and explain how a person can manage the symptoms of the condition as they get older.

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If a person finds concentrating difficult or frequently acts on impulse, they may have ADHD.

Adults with ADHD typically:

  • find organization challenging
  • find it difficult to stay in the same job
  • struggle with timekeeping, which can lead to frequent lateness for work
  • are often restless
  • often feel compelled to multitask but may be unable to complete tasks fully or to a high standard

People with ADHD may find it difficult to think of the long-term consequences of their actions and plan their time effectively. When a person cannot prioritize their thoughts and actions, they may have a problem with executive function.

Adults with ADHD may present with depression, and they might also struggle with substance abuse. As a result, they are at risk of not achieving their full potential in terms of education and career progression.

However, numerous positives come with ADHD, such as cognitive dynamism, resilience, and social intelligence.

Learn more about the possible positive effects of ADHD here.

In some cases, ADHD is a lifelong condition. The National Human Genome Research Institute estimates that 20–30% of people do not grow out of ADHD. However, half of adults show a reduction in symptoms. It is unclear why some people outgrow their symptoms while others do not.

Researchers do know, though, that treating ADHD sooner rather than later generally leads to better outcomes.

For example, children who receive treatment for ADHD tend to have fewer emergency room visits than those who do not. Treatment also makes adolescents less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drinking and driving.

Adults with ADHD can go to support groups where they will meet other people with ADHD and receive guidance from counselors. This could be useful for those who received their diagnosis later in life.

Some adults with ADHD may also wish to attend psychotherapy for couples and families to help the people closest to them understand more about ADHD and its symptoms. In addition, ADHD coaches can provide one-to-one guidance on a variety of topics.

Learn more about the symptoms of ADHD in adulthood here.

When a person lives with ADHD as an adult, a doctor will usually prescribe a range of treatments. These may include:

Medications

Medications to treat ADHD include stimulants, such as methylphenidate and amphetamines.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved antidepressants to treat ADHD symptoms, doctors prescribe them off-label in rare cases.

Psychotherapy

One type of therapy that helps a person overcome their ADHD symptoms is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy helps raise a person’s awareness of any deficits in attention and concentration, and it ultimately improves their organizational skills.

Another goal of CBT is to combat feelings of low self-esteem and low confidence. In doing this, it can reduce the risk of a person developing depression and other conditions that could affect their mood.

ADHD develops in childhood. However, if a person did not receive a diagnosis when they were a child, a doctor will use slightly different criteria to determine whether they have ADHD in adulthood.

A doctor will confirm ADHD if a person meets the following criteria:

  • They have at least five symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, or both.
  • These symptoms present in at least two places — for example, home and work.
  • The symptoms interfere with their day-to-day life.
  • The person had some of these symptoms before the age of 12 years.

Learn more about untreated ADHD in adults here.

According to a 2020 expert consensus statement, healthcare professionals often misdiagnose ADHD in females or diagnose them later in life. One reason for this is that hyperactive-impulsive symptoms tend to be more subtle in females than in males.

This lack of early diagnosis means that females miss out on treatments and other interventions when they are young, which could result in them falling behind in school or struggling to form relationships as they get older.

If someone is transitioning to menopause or is pregnant, a doctor may need to adjust their ADHD medication, as hormonal fluctuations could affect their ADHD symptoms. A person may find therapy more beneficial at these times, either alongside medication or as a stand-alone treatment.

Learn more about ADHD in females here.

There have not been many studies involving people with ADHD who are older than 50 years. However, some research suggests that ADHD symptoms are significantly less prevalent in people aged 70–80 years than in those aged 50–60 years.

Researchers acknowledge that diagnosing someone with ADHD later in life is difficult, as they may have underlying health issues and other age-related complications that could overlap with ADHD symptoms.

Some older people might be unable to take ADHD medication due to the side effects, but they may benefit from psychological therapy.

ADHD does not get worse with age if a person receives treatment for their symptoms after receiving a diagnosis.

If a doctor diagnoses a person as an adult, their symptoms will begin to improve when they start their treatment plan, which could involve a combination of medication and therapy.

Older adults may notice their ADHD symptoms change over time, especially at key points in their life — for example, when they enter menopause.

While ADHD research on older adults is limited, people who are 70–80 years old tend not to experience as many ADHD symptoms as those who are 50–60 years old.