Can ADHD Develop in Adulthood?

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Question: Can ADHD Develop in Adulthood?

“I am a 48 year old woman and recently I have been having problems concentrating and remembering things. I actually seem to have some of the symptoms of ADHD, especially in terms of inattention. I am feeling scattered and overwhelmed. Until fairly recently, however, I never did have these problems. My question is this: Can a person develop ADHD as an adult?”


Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral condition that develops in childhood. In order to meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis, some symptoms that cause impairment must be present in childhood.

To answer your question more clearly: No, ADHD does not develop in adulthood.

Sometimes ADHD is hard to diagnose, however, because symptoms can present so differently from person to person. These symptoms can even appear in differing ways as that person ages. Thus, a person may no be diagnosed until later in life -- even though, in retrospect, it is clear that symptoms did exist at an earlier stage in life.

How do symptoms of ADHD change over the lifespan?

Symptoms of ADHD may emerge as early as the preschool years, particularly if a child displays the hyperactive and impulsive type of symptoms. These behaviors tend to get noticed earlier simply because they are more disruptive.

Symptoms of inattention tend to become more noticeable when a child gets older, enters grade school, and faces increased demands for sustained focus. Whereas very young children are encouraged to move around in the classroom setting and learn through physical activity and play, older children are expected to sit still, listen attentively, and respond quickly to questions posed by the teacher.

Adolescence can bring on a whole new set of challenges as a teenager becomes more and more responsible for self-management while expectations, responsibilities, and academic and social pressures increase. Often ADHD symptoms become more pronounced when teens are expected to organize their own time, plan ahead to complete projects and tasks, and think carefully about potentially risky behavior. Issues such as impulsivity and lack of attention can result in more obviously negative outcomes ranging from teen pregnancy to reckless driving.

Some people are able to manage symptoms with lots of support and coping strategies, but the impairments are still there. It may be that the symptoms aren't recognized until adolescence or even adulthood. The point is that for a person to be accurately diagnosed with ADHD, some symptoms must be present in childhood.

If you suddenly become aware of symptoms that seem similar to ADHD but have never been present before, it's unlikely that ADHD is really the issue.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about your concerns around memory and inattention. There are certainly conditions of adulthood that can look a bit like ADHD, including depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and even menopause.

Learn More About Adult ADHD:

Understanding Symptoms of Adult ADHD

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