In the Wall Street Journal, on 2/25/20, there was a report on the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in older people.
ADHD in the Elderly
I’ve been treating “older people,” let’s say people over 60 for decades. It’s a myth that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) only occurs in children. A myth perpetuated by unwarranted requirements in the diagnostic manual that symptoms must appear prior to the age of 11. The fact is that the symptoms of ADHD can appear at any age, and when they do, they deserve to be treated.
The oldest person I ever treated for ADHD was 86. Once he discovered that what had been holding him back his entire life was not the depression he and his doctors had ascribed it to for decades but rather ADHD; once he got off the anti-depressants he’d been talking, without benefit for decades; and once he comprehended the magnitude of ADHD and how it impacted all elements of his life, this new knowledge filled him up with hope. No longer did he see himself as incapable of achieving his lifelong dream of writing a novel.
Luckily, the stimulant medication I prescribed for him worked, and worked brilliantly. It caused no side effects, other than appetite suppression, which he was able to deal with simply by eating even when he wasn’t very hungry.
A New Lease on Life
With the new lease on the life that the diagnosis of, education about, and medication for ADHD provided, this man was able, at last, to write the novel he’d been wanting to write for 50 years. He was able to die with his dream fulfilled.
This is just one of many stories I could tell about diagnosing ADHD for the first time in a person over 60, and treating it with stimulant medication. The most overlooked group is women. But older men routinely get missed as well.
As long as the doctor monitors possible side effects, like weight loss, elevated heart rate or elevated blood pressure, as well as insomnia, agitation, or general unpleasant feelings, it is entirely safe to prescribe stimulants to people of any age. More than safe, 80% of the time it is hugely beneficial.
Making Sure The Diagnosis is Accurate
You just want to be sure the diagnosis is accurate. It takes a careful and experienced doctor to tell ADHD from early Alzheimer’s or other dementing process; depression; anxiety disorders; anemia; hypothyroidism; or other medical conditions that can confuse the picture.
But if you have a good doctor, keep in mind the possibility of ADHD before you accept far more dire diagnoses like dementia, depression, or encephalopathy.
As I’ve said many times. ADHD is a good news diagnosis. Once you find out you have it—no matter what you age might be—you life can only improve.