Can ADHD get worse as you get older?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that typically persists into adulthood, and while it doesn’t inherently worsen over time, the presentation of its symptoms can evolve. If one is not properly treated for ADHD, then they are at risk for developing additional problems and/or disorders, such as mood disorders and substance use disorders.
Some individuals find their hyperactivity and impulsivity may diminish or resolve with age, but their inattention symptoms can persist. Indeed, ADHD symptoms are not static and can vary as you get older. [i]
However, if left untreated, ADHD can have a profoundly negative impact on an individual’s quality of life. This impact can extend to various domains, including employment, finances, relationships, mental health, and overall well-being. Early intervention and treatment are necessary to lessen the potential adverse consequences of untreated ADHD. [ii]
For decades, the Drake Institute has used advanced treatment technologies to create customized treatment protocols for patients with ADHD and other brain-based conditions. Our tailored approach to non-invasive, non-drug treatment uses brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation to help our ADHD patients reduce their symptoms and lead better lives.
ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects an individual’s ability to sustain attention, regulate impulses, and manage hyperactive or impulsive behaviors. According to the CDC, ADHD has the highest prevalence rate of most mental health conditions in children and generally carries over into adulthood for most patients, though symptoms may change over time.
There are many possible contributory causes of ADHD, and current research points to multiple genetic and environmental factors, like hypoxia during childbirth, prematurity, and exposure to tobacco, alcohol, or other toxins during pregnancy.
There is no known cure for ADHD. However, at the Drake Institute, we have helped some patients improve to the level that they no longer meet diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis by the completion of treatment.
ADHD primarily affects a person’s ability to self-regulate, particularly concerning focus, impulsivity, and at times hyperactivity. These individuals lack the properly functioning brain networks that facilitate maintaining attention, emotional regulation, impulse control and behavior.
ADHD is broken down into three subtypes that indicate which area of concern is the most pressing: inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity. Each subtype has several symptoms to watch out for:
If you have ADHD, you may have asked yourself “Why is my ADHD getting worse” more than once.
ADHD symptoms can become more challenging over time due to a lot of different factors. Life experiences, such as increased responsibilities, can overwhelm existing coping strategies. Changes in support can exacerbate symptoms, such as going from a structured home environment to away at college, as well as transitioning to the workplace which requires more independence and increased demands for self-regulation.
Certain physiological changes can also impact attention and impulse control. For example, hormonal shifts or changes in sleep patterns can make it more difficult to self-regulate. Emotional challenges, including acute and/or chronic stress, can intensify ADHD symptoms and worsen daily functioning.
So, can ADHD get worse with age? While ADHD itself doesn’t necessarily worsen with age, increased demands due to greater responsibilities can exacerbate symptoms. [iii] [iv] As an example, if a four-legged table has a crack in one leg and you keep adding more and more weight to the table, eventually that cracked leg can collapse the table.
Does untreated ADHD get worse with age?
Leaving ADHD untreated can have far-reaching and detrimental consequences in many areas of an individual’s life and lead to substance abuse, divorces, increased motor vehicle accidents, poor performance at work, and more. [v] [vi]
Left untreated, ADHD is often linked to the development of other mental health conditions. Individuals with untreated ADHD may be at a higher risk of developing mood disorders like depression and anxiety because ADHD has made their life so difficult. These individuals are much more vulnerable to underachievement, unfulfilled goals or dreams, and increased stress.
Untreated ADHD is also linked to an increased susceptibility to substance abuse problems. Some individuals with ADHD may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and alleviate symptoms. For example, they may self-medicate their ADHD with cocaine or methamphetamines and/or use alcohol for anxiety or depression. This self-medicating behavior only exacerbates their already difficult life.
Individuals with ADHD often have difficulties sustaining focus, meeting deadlines, being organized, prioritizing appropriately and maintaining good time management. Lacking these skills can hinder career advancement and education. Untreated ADHD may result in underachievement and missed professional opportunities.
Impulsivity and inattention from untreated ADHD can put a strain on personal relationships, often resulting in misunderstandings and conflicts. For example, inattention can cause a misperception that the ADHD individual is intentionally not listening to them. Addressing ADHD is essential to fostering healthier interpersonal relationships and communications.
Untreated ADHD can also lead to financial difficulties. Impulsive spending habits and employment issues, such as underperformance, lack of career advancement, and being fired or dismissed, can put individuals with ADHD at risk of financial instability.
Individuals struggling with executive functioning skills, which is common in ADHD, may find making and sticking to a budget, paying bills on time, and saving money challenging hurdles.
ADHD symptoms can improve over time for some individuals. A minority of patients may outgrow the disorder. Inattentive symptoms are most likely to persist and cause problems in adulthood.
Many hyperactive children may outgrow the hyperactivity by adolescence. For others, the physical hyperactivity may be gone, but it took a different form where it’s internalized now with racing thoughts or a motor running inside them that is not due to anxiety.
Another reason why ADHD symptoms may get better over time is the development of coping mechanisms and strategies as the individuals age. With experience, they often learn how to manage symptoms through improved organizational skills and time management techniques.
Perhaps the most important step to improving outcomes for individuals with ADHD is receiving a correct diagnosis and early treatment. At the Drake Institute, our treatment is not to better manage symptoms, but rather to improve and optimize brain functioning, which reduces or resolves symptoms. Some of our patients have even improved to a level where they no longer meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD.[vii]
To meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis, the individual must display a persistent pattern of symptoms, which may include any of the following: inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity that significantly impairs their daily life and functioning. Additionally, the symptoms should be present before the age of 12, last for at least six months, and be observed in multiple settings. [viii]
At the Drake Institute, the clinical evaluation of ADHD is performed with a comprehensive clinical history along with standardized ADHD rating scales, which is further supported using qEEG brain mapping. Brain mapping can identify networks or regions in the brain that are dysregulated linked to symptoms and are used as the blueprint for each patient’s treatment protocols.
The causes of ADHD are still being researched, and current research indicates that genetics can play a role. Scientists have identified up to 27 common genetic variants that may influence ADHD. These variants have been found in genes expressed in the frontal cortex (areas of the brain involved in memory and attention) and the midbrain dopaminergic neurons (involved in voluntary movement and reward processing).
ADHD is considered a lifelong condition. In other words, there is no cure for ADHD.[x]
Though we don’t describe our treatment as a cure for ADHD at the Drake Institute, we have seen remarkable improvements in patients.
Utilizing brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation with family involvement and support, we have seen some patients no longer meet diagnostic criteria for an ADHD diagnosis by the completion of treatment.
Over the last 40 years, the Drake Institute has clinically pioneered the use of advanced treatment technologies to treat a variety of brain-based medical disorders such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, and more. Using a combination of brain map-guided neurofeedback and sometimes neurostimulation, our Medical Director creates customized treatment protocols to address each patient's needs.
To develop our individualized treatment plans, we first complete a qEEG brain map analysis for each patient. Brain mapping helps us identify which specific regions or networks of the brain are dysregulated linked to symptoms.
To collect this data, 19 sensors are placed around the scalp in areas of the brain responsible for language, focus, memory, executive functioning, social/emotional understanding and behavioral/emotional regulation. The 19 sensors measure and record brainwave activity that is processed through a normative database of neurotypical individuals.
When we compare the patient's results with those of neurotypical individuals, we can identify regions or networks of the brain that are dysregulated and causing symptoms. This information also allows us to determine how these areas are dysregulated so that we can develop specific treatment protocols that help improve brain functioning and reduce symptoms.
During neurofeedback training/treatment, sensors are once again placed on the scalp. The sensors record and display instantaneous brainwave activity visually in real-time on a computer screen with simultaneous auditory feedback as well.
During neurofeedback sessions, the patient is seeing the results of how their brain is working and with this information, they learn to improve their brainwave activity by guiding it toward healthier, more appropriately functional brainwave patterns.
We do not administer any drugs or perform invasive procedures during this process. Instead, the patient is improving their own brain functioning, guided by visual and auditory feedback.
As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.
In the last forty years, Drake has helped thousands of patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and hypertension reduce or resolve their symptoms and thereby achieve a better quality of life. Call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form to get started.
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Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Spanish News Feature
“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”