Attention Deficit Disorder Isn't Just for the Young ; It Can Last a Lifetime, but Little Is Known about How It Affects the Elderly

By Berck, Judy | International New York Times, September 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

Attention Deficit Disorder Isn't Just for the Young ; It Can Last a Lifetime, but Little Is Known about How It Affects the Elderly


Berck, Judy, International New York Times


It can last a lifetime, but little is known about how it affects the elderly.

The 73-year-old widow came to see David Goodman, an assistant professor in the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department at John Hopkins School of Medicine, after her daughter had urged her to "see somebody" for her increasing forgetfulness. She was often losing her pocketbook and keys and had trouble following conversations, and 15 minutes later couldn't remember much of what was said.

But he didn't think she had early Alzheimer's disease. The woman's daughter and granddaughter had both been given a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. a few years earlier, and Dr. Goodman, who is also the director of a private adult A.D.H.D. clinical and research center outside of Baltimore, asked about her school days as a teenager.

"She told me: 'I would doodle because I couldn't pay attention to the teacher, and I wouldn't know what was going on. The teacher would move me to the front of the class,"' Dr. Goodman said,

After interviewing her extensively, noting the presence of patterns of impairment that spanned the decades, Dr. Goodman diagnosed A.D.H.D. He prescribed Vyvanse, a short-acting stimulant of the central nervous system.

A few weeks later, the difference was remarkable. "She said: 'I'm surprised, because I'm not misplacing my keys now, and I can remember things better. My mind isn't wandering off, and I can stay in a conversation. I can do something until I finish it,"' Dr. Goodman said.

Once seen as a disorder affecting mainly children and young adults, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is increasingly understood to last throughout one's lifetime. In 2012, in one of the only epidemiological studies done on A.D.H.D. in the elderly, a large Dutch population study found the condition in close to 3 percent of people over 60.

Yet we know little about how A.D.H.D. affects elderly people, or even who has it.

"We hardly have any literature," said Thomas Brown, associate director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders at the Yale School of Medicine. Almost none of the clinical trials and epidemiological studies on A.D.H.D. have included people over 50. "But I see quite a few people turning up in my office with these complaints. It's reasonable to assume that a lot of elderly people have A.D.H.D."

Awareness of A.D.H.D. is bringing increased referrals of elderly adults to specialty clinics. Martin Wetzel, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said: "A child had been treated, then a parent, then everyone started looking at Grandpa, and saying, 'Oh my gosh,' and they would bring him in. …

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