- ADHD and dementia may share genetic pathways, but there’s no evidence that ADHD directly causes dementia later in life.
- Living with ADHD may increase the chance of developing other diseases, which may in turn increase the chance of experiencing dementia.
- Living with both ADHD and dementia may mean learning new strategies to manage both conditions.
If you live with a condition like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may wonder about your chance of developing dementia as you age.
Living with ADHD means so much more than having a short attention span.
You may find it challenging to manage your time, for example, or you might feel more forgetful than the people around you.
Symptoms like these can be a natural part of living with ADHD. But they can feel disruptive and concerning at times, especially as they relate to cognitive tasks.
As you age, you may start to worry that your ADHD symptoms are indicative of another condition — dementia.
While both ADHD and dementia can present with cognitive symptoms, the mechanisms behind them are very different.
The exact cause of ADHD isn’t yet known, but experts believe it’s likely a combination of factors such as genetics, brain injuries, and co-occurring conditions.
These differences can occur naturally through biology or genetics.
Dementia, on the other hand, is caused by the slow and progressive deterioration of the brain’s communication pathways through various mechanisms of damage.
For example, in Alzheimer’s disease — a form of dementia — protein accumulation outside of brain cells can affect cellular health and function.
ADHD and dementia do not cause one another. However, they do have a potential link.
There’s some research that links having ADHD to a higher chance of experiencing dementia later in life.
A 2017 study in Taiwan found that adults living with ADHD were about three times more likely to develop dementia.
Experts believe that genetics influence this link between ADHD and dementia. A
The authors of the study noted this may suggest there are genetic pathways implicated in both ADHD and dementia, even if a singular common variant hasn’t yet been discovered.
Genetics may be a link, but how does this translate to a higher prevalence of dementia among people living with ADHD?
Currently, the direct connection exists only in speculation. Authors from the multigenerational study suggest genetic pathways may be only one way to explain the numbers.
Family-wide factors, such as environment and socioeconomic standing, could also explain generational findings.
It’s also possible that living with ADHD may increase the chances of certain physical conditions, which may then impact dementia development.
This theory was supported by a 2018 study, which noted that the link between ADHD and dementia may have a lot to do with the increased prevalence of metabolic conditions such as diabetes.
ADHD and dementia are separate diagnoses.
ADHD is most often diagnosed during childhood when symptoms present in supervised settings, such as at school and at home.
While there’s no definitive test for ADHD, if you were diagnosed as a child, it was likely because you displayed behavior patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.
It may be more difficult to diagnose adult ADHD because symptoms may not be as obvious, or they may present in different ways, such as restlessness rather than overt hyperactivity.
If you’re an adult who suspects you’re living with ADHD, your current symptoms and your childhood behavior patterns may all be a part of determining an ADHD diagnosis.
Dementia is more than just forgetfulness, though that may be an early symptom of the condition.
If you feel as though you’ve been more forgetful than what’s typical for you, speaking with a healthcare professional will help identify any underlying causes.
You may be asked to speak with a mental health professional to rule out other conditions that may cause cognitive symptoms, such as depression and ADHD.
From there, cognitive and neurologic functioning tests may be recommended to evaluate processes such as:
- memory recall
- language skills
- problem-solving ability
- computational function
Other laboratory and diagnostic imaging tests may be ordered to determine whether there are physical changes that may account for the symptoms you’re experiencing.
If no other underlying causes are found, you may be given a dementia diagnosis based on the number and severity of symptoms you’re experiencing in your day-to-day life.
Living with ADHD and dementia may mean managing both conditions simultaneously.
ADHD symptom severity can lessen as you age, but long-term management often starts with behavioral therapy, regardless of age.
In some cases, medications may be recommended to manage your symptoms while you develop new behavioral strategies.
Many people may already have successful methods of ADHD management by the time they start to experience symptoms of dementia.
Dementia is most commonly seen in older adults, though rare cases of early onset dementia may start around ages 30 to 40.
By this time, you may have already been managing ADHD for several decades.
There is no cure for dementia. It’s considered a progressive disease, meaning the symptoms become more severe over time. Symptoms can be slowed with medication but not completely eliminated.
Living with dementia may make symptoms of ADHD worse, as damage to the brain increases and further affects neurotransmitters and brain structure, though there’s not much research on ADHD in older populations.
If you live with both ADHD and dementia, new management strategies may be recommended to help address any changes in symptoms you experience.
ADHD doesn’t cause dementia, but living with ADHD suggests that you may have a higher chance of developing dementia later in life.
The exact causes behind this are unknown, but experts believe there may be similar genetic pathways involved in both conditions.
Living with ADHD may also mean you have a higher chance of experiencing other medical conditions that make you more likely to develop dementia.
If you live with ADHD and dementia, your healthcare team can help guide you through symptom management for both conditions as you age.