As you get older, degenerative changes happen in all tissues and organs of the body, including the brain. Some parts of the brain shrink, particularly those involved in learning and other complex activities. In some brain regions, the communication between nerve cells becomes less effective. The blood flow to the brain decreases with age, while more inflammation is affecting all bodily’s tissues, including the brain.
It would make sense to believe that ADHD may worsen over time, along with the age-related changes in the brain, right?
However, this is not the case for most people with ADHD. What happens in the aging brain, and how does ADHD progress over time?
The brain and the aging process
As the brain ages, many people experience memory problems like mild difficulty learning something new, multitasking, remembering names, numbers or going to an appointment. These issues related to aging are mild and do not interfere significantly with day-to-day life- as it happens in dementia.
The peak brainpower is when a person is 20-27 years and gradually decreases over time. The volume of the brain and/or its weight decreases with age at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40. In addition to brain shrinking, reduced blood flow, and connectivity between neurons, the aging brain also produces fewer brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, and acetylcholine. While most people think about mood and memory issues, a deficiency of these neurotransmitters also causes sleep problems, blood sugar imbalances, and decreased immune system function.
However, there is great news. Research studies from the last few decades found that it is possible to slow down and even reverse the aging process. The brain has a great ability to repair and regenerate. New brain cells develop in certain areas of the brain even in older adults through a process called neurogenesis. New brain connections can form and damaged neurons can repair through neuroplasticity. The aging process can be slowed down, too. From intermittent fasting and low carb diets to regular exercise, improved sleep hygiene, and managing stress, healthy lifestyle changes have all anti-aging effects. Nutrients that are essential for brain health include B vitamins, vitamins D, C, E, magnesium, CoQ10, omega 3 fatty acids and can be obtained from diet and supplements. On the other hand, excess stress, smoking, alcohol or other substance abuse accelerate the aging process.
How ADHD progresses over time
Generally speaking, ADHD does not get worse with age. In fact, about 40% of children with ADHD outgrow this condition, and about 60% of children will continue to have symptoms, and become adults with ADHD.
However, not everyone will have the same symptoms or progression over time. In some cases, the symptoms may become more severe, especially if ADHD was not properly treated early on in life. Adulthood brings a lot of events that can be stressful events related to the career or relationships. ADHD often runs in families and having both children and adults in the family with this condition can become really challenging. Stress aggravates ADHD and also co-morbid conditions like anxiety, depression, or eating disorders. Adults are more likely to abuse substances (ie alcohol, drugs) which can further worsen the symptoms.
Symptoms not only vary from one person to another but from one day to another. A person may have good days with very little or no symptoms, and days when ADHD symptoms are very intense.
Is there any way to prevent ADHD from getting worse over time? Yes, make sure the symptoms are well managed, as early as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) were found to correlate with less intense symptoms of ADHD during adulthood. CBT works well alone and in combination with drugs- for ADHD, as well as anxiety, depression, or personality disorders. It has long-lasting effects, and it has no safety issues. In many cases, ADHD treatment involves CBT and medication.
The same lifestyle changes that promote brain health and help to slow the aging process (a healthy diet, Mediterranean style, exercise, sleep, and stress management) can also help with ADHD symptoms, too.
Have you heard of Brain HQ?
One of the most researched brain exercises is called Brain HQ. It has been evaluated in over 100 research studies and it gives your brain a great “workout”. Some of the benefits of these brain exercises include better memory, less likely to develop depressive symptoms, more self-confidence, faster auditory processing, improved word counting, protection against health decline, faster visual memory and may even reduce the chances of having a car crash. You can use the free version of Brain HQ for 5 minutes daily, and paid membership is available for more practice.
Most of the time ADHD doesn’t get worse over time. Many people experience improvement in symptoms and some children can completely outgrow ADHD during adulthood.
However, others will continue to have symptoms, which can change over time, or become worse. There are a couple of important things to do. Seek medical advice, get the right treatment and work with a team of healthcare professionals to get this condition under control.