ADHD in Older Adults: Recognising and Managing Symptoms

Discover how ADHD impacts older adults and practical strategies for managing symptoms in later life, ensuring improved quality of life and well-being.

Written by

Jacqui Walker

Published On:

Oct 19, 2023

Old couple with ADHD holding a laptop
Old couple with ADHD holding a laptop
Old couple with ADHD holding a laptop

ADHD isn't just a childhood condition; it can persist into adulthood and even emerge for the first time in older age. Recognising and managing ADHD in older adults is crucial but often overlooked.

In fact, adult ADHD symptoms aren't as rare as you may think. Common signs such as restlessness, impulsivity, or problems with concentration aren't exclusive to younger generations; they're also prevalent issues among older adults too.

Managing ADHD in adults involves a multi-faceted approach incorporating medication, lifestyle changes, and psychotherapy. 

Moreover, there are some strategies that are key to improving quality of life and reducing the impact of ADHD symptoms on daily activities. Let’s dive deeper!

Understanding ADHD in Older Adults

Often, when you think about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it's kids who spring to mind. However, ADHD isn't just a childhood condition. 

Many older adults are living with undiagnosed or misdiagnosed adult ADHD symptoms, unaware that there's a name for the struggles they've been dealing with for years.

You'll find it surprising to know that about 3% of older adults in the UK have ADHD and many of them don't even realise it. 

It's important to recognise that these individuals may have lived their entire lives without understanding why they struggled with issues like focus, organisation, impulse control, and restlessness – hallmark symptoms of adult ADHD.

In older adults, untreated ADHD can lead to various complications. These could include depression, anxiety, and chronic stress. Not only does this affect their mental health, but it also has a significant impact on their overall quality of life.

Managing ADHD in adults often involves a combination of medication and behavioural therapies. But the first step is getting an accurate diagnosis, which can be tricky as symptoms can often be mistaken for age-related cognitive decline or other mental health conditions.

Awareness about the existence and impact of adult ADHD is key to improving the lives of those affected by it. 

By recognising the signs and seeking help from healthcare professionals, older adults living with ADHD can embark on a journey towards better management of their symptoms and ultimately improve their quality of life.

Recognising ADHD Symptoms in Mature Age Groups

Recognising ADHD Symptoms in Mature Age Groups

It's not uncommon for ADHD symptoms to go unnoticed until later stages of life. Unravelling the often misunderstood world of adult ADHD, especially among older adults, can be quite a challenge. 

It's important to remember that these symptoms are not just an inevitable part of ageing but could indicate a condition that requires attention and management.

As you dive into the realm of understanding adult ADHD, you'll find there is a spectrum of signs that vary from person to person. Here's what you should keep your eyes open for:

  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention

  • Issues with multitasking

  • Forgetting or misplacing things frequently

  • Struggling with organisation and time management

These symptoms might seem familiar and may even overlap with other conditions common in older people, such as dementia or depression. However, if they're persistent and interfere significantly with everyday functioning, it's worth considering the possibility of adult ADHD.

The prevalence rates for adult ADHD aren't as well studied compared to children. Yet some studies suggest that about 2.5% to 4% of adults worldwide have this condition, underlying its significance in mature age groups.

To manage these symptoms effectively, it's crucial to first identify them accurately. A thorough professional evaluation will help rule out other similar conditions and provide clarity on the course ahead.

Here are some key steps involved in managing ADHD symptoms:

  • Seeking a proper diagnosis: This involves talking openly about your concerns with a healthcare provider who specialises in adult mental health.

  • Implementing behavioural strategies: These include organisational tools like calendars or reminders; adopting healthy lifestyle habits; and stress management techniques such as meditation.

Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to handling any health issue, including adult ADHD. By recognising these indicators early on and seeking appropriate help when needed, managing life with adult ADHD becomes much more manageable.

The Overlap of ADHD and Age-Related Conditions

A fascinating aspect of adult ADHD symptoms in older adults is their tendency to overlap with several age-related conditions. You might wonder, "What's the big deal about this overlap?" Well, it's crucial for two main reasons: diagnosis and management.

When you're looking at ADHD in older adults, it's not uncommon to see a blending of symptoms with conditions such as depression, anxiety, or even dementia. These disorders often share common signs like forgetfulness, difficulty focusing, or restlessness. 

This can make diagnosing adult ADHD a bit tricky; clinicians have to carefully distinguish between these overlapping symptoms.

Moreover, there's another layer added by physical health issues that commonly affect seniors, like heart disease or diabetes. Some studies have suggested a link between these chronic illnesses and the increased prevalence of ADHD symptoms in adults.

For instance:

The Overlap of ADHD and Age-Related Conditions

While managing ADHD in adults has its own set of challenges due to these overlaps, it's not all doom and gloom! 

There are strategies that can help manage the impact on daily life effectively:

  • First, understanding the complex nature of your condition is key; knowing how your symptoms may interact with other aspects of ageing will empower you to seek appropriate treatment. 

  • Second, maintaining open communication lines with your healthcare provider is essential; they'll be able to monitor any changes closely and adjust treatments as needed.

  • Last, but not least, don't underestimate the power of lifestyle modifications! Healthy habits like adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise can go a long way in managing both adult ADHD symptoms and age-related conditions alike.

Challenges Faced by Adults with Late-Life ADHD

Older adults face unique challenges when coping with late-life ADHD

Imagine you're in your golden years, but instead of enjoying a calm and peaceful retirement, you're struggling with adult ADHD symptoms. Restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and impulsivity are just some of the hurdles you may encounter daily. 

It's not easy; forgetting appointments, misplacing items frequently, or feeling overwhelmed by simple tasks are all part and parcel of living with this condition in later life.

Misdiagnosis is common due to similarities between adult ADHD symptoms and typical signs of ageing

As mentioned, ADHD in adults is often mistaken for age-related cognitive decline or conditions like dementia. 

This means that many older adults suffering from ADHD remain undiagnosed and untreated - an unfortunate situation, as a proper diagnosis could pave the way for effective management strategies.

Management strategies used for younger individuals may not always be suitable or effective in older adults

Managing ADHD in adults comes with its own set of obstacles too. 

Medication typically prescribed to younger individuals may not be suitable due to the increased risk of side effects in older patients or interactions with other medications they may be taking for various age-related conditions. 

In addition, non-pharmacological treatment options such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) require motivation and consistency, attributes that can sometimes prove challenging due to the nature of adult ADHD symptoms themselves.

Negative societal attitudes towards ADHD can contribute to feelings of frustration and isolation

Lastly, societal attitudes play no small part in compounding these issues further. There's still a lingering misconception that ADHD is predominantly a 'childhood disorder', leading to feelings of frustration and isolation amongst older sufferers who feel misunderstood or dismissed.

While the journey isn't easy, it's essential to remember that understanding these challenges is the first step towards finding effective ways to manage ADHD in older adults.

Diagnosing ADHD in Older Adults: What to Expect

Diagnosing ADHD in Older Adults: What to Expect

You might be wondering how ADHD in older adults is diagnosed. For a start, many healthcare professionals are more familiar with diagnosing and treating ADHD in children, leaving adult ADHD somewhat overlooked.

The process begins with a thorough evaluation by a mental health professional. They'll dive into your past, exploring your childhood behaviour, and school performance. 

This historical review is crucial because, for an adult to be diagnosed with ADHD, some symptoms must have been present during childhood.

Now let's look at what else the diagnosis involves:

  • Detailed interviews about your symptoms

  • Standardised rating scales

  • Collaboration from someone who knows you well

While there isn't any single test that confirms or rules out adult ADHD, these steps provide an accurate picture of your condition. And remember, it's important to rule out other conditions that mimic ADHD symptoms, such as depression or anxiety disorders.

In terms of statistics, studies show that about 2 to 4% of adults worldwide have ADHD, but only 10 to 20% are diagnosed or treated. That’s a significant gap between those struggling silently and those getting help!

So what happens after the diagnosis? Well, managing ADHHD in older adults often requires medication alongside behavioural therapies. Common medications include stimulants like Adderall and non-stimulants such as Strattera. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also work wonders; it helps you develop coping strategies for everyday challenges.

Finally, don’t forget lifestyle changes! Regular exercise stimulates the brain in ways similar to those of common ADD/ADHD medications, boosting concentration and mood while reducing impulsivity.

Management Strategies for Adult-Onset ADHD Symptoms

Taking control of your ADHD symptoms as an older adult can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. There are numerous strategies you can implement into your daily routine that will make managing your symptoms easier.


Firstly, let's talk about medication. Although it's not the only solution, it can certainly help with managing adult ADHD symptoms. A variety of medications are available, and they've been proven to reduce impulsivity and improve focus in many individuals. 

However, always consult with your doctor before starting any new medication regimen.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Another effective approach is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This type of therapy helps you understand how your thoughts influence your actions and provides you with tools to change negative thought patterns. 

It's particularly beneficial for those dealing with ADHD, as it teaches skills such as time management and organizational strategies.


Exercise is another powerful tool for managing ADHD in adults. Regular physical activity has been shown to improve concentration, decrease anxiety, and enhance mood - all common issues faced by individuals with ADHD. 

It doesn't have to be intensive exercise either; even light activities like walking or gardening can make a difference.


Nutrition also plays a role in managing adult-onset ADHD symptoms. Some research suggests that certain foods may exacerbate symptoms, while others may alleviate them. For example:

  • Foods rich in protein: Good sources include lean meats, eggs, and dairy products.

  • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids: Such as oily fish or flax seeds.

  • Complex carbohydrates: Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Lastly, remember that everyone's experience with ADHD is unique, so what works for one person might not work for another. Therefore, don't be afraid to experiment with different strategies until you find what works best for you!

ADHD Medication and Treatment Options for Seniors

When it comes to managing adult ADHD symptoms, medication often plays an important role. However, treating ADHD in older adults isn't as straightforward as you might think. 

Age-related factors such as chronic health conditions or medications for other illnesses can complicate things.

Stimulant Medication

A common go-to treatment option includes stimulants like methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine (Adderall). These drugs boost and balance the levels of specific neurotransmitters in the brain. 

But here's the kicker: although they're effective, these medications may not always be suitable for seniors. They can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, which can be risky if you have any heart-related issues.

Non-stimulant Medication

Non-stimulant medications are another option that could be considered safer for seniors with ADHD. 

Drugs such as atomoxetine (Strattera), guanfacine (Intuniv), and clonidine (Kapvay) work differently than stimulants, increasing norepinephrine levels in your brain to help reduce symptoms of ADHD.

Non-stimulant Medication

Aside from medication, there are several non-pharmaceutical approaches that can also play a crucial role in managing ADHD symptoms:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy: As mentioned, this form of therapy helps you identify harmful behaviours or thought patterns and learn how to replace them with healthier alternatives.

  • Mindfulness Techniques: Practices such as yoga or meditation can help improve focus and reduce impulsivity.

  • Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep – all these contribute significantly towards managing your symptoms better.

Remember, treatment isn't one-size-fits-all. It's important to discuss with your doctor what mix of medication and non-medication strategies would work best for you. After all, the goal is simple: to enable you to lead a more focused and less distracted life.

Wrapping Up: Living Successfully with ADHD in Later Life

Living a fulfilling and balanced life while dealing with adult ADHD symptoms is more than possible; it's within your reach. 

The key to success? Understanding your condition and implementing practical strategies to manage your symptoms. Don't hesitate to seek professional help if needed. 

At the end of the day, living successfully with ADHD comes down to self-acceptance and compassion. Remember, each step you take towards understanding and managing your condition is progress - regardless of how small it might seem.

Your journey with late-life ADHD doesn't define who you are; rather it adds another layer to your rich tapestry of experiences, making you even more unique! As long as there’s breath in your lungs — you're capable of living a successful life with ADHD, no matter your age.