ADHD burden of illness in older adults: a life course perspective



To explore the burden of illness and impact on patients’ quality of life (QoL) experiences in older ADHD adults.


Telephone interviews were conducted with older adult participants diagnosed with ADHD later in life. Transcripts were analyzed following a grounded theory approach.


Mean age of participants (N = 24) was 66 years, and mean age at diagnosis was 57 years; 68% were men and 63% reported other comorbid mental health conditions. ADHD symptoms reported were inattention (71%), impulsivity (58%), hyperactivity (54%), and disorganization (54%). The majority of participants (63%) experienced an accumulated lifetime burden of illness and reported being financially less-well-off, had lower educational achievement, job performance, and greater social isolation due to their ADHD. Older adults reported significantly greater impairments in productivity (P ≤ 0.02) and a better life outlook (P ≤ 0.05) than younger ADHD adults.


Older adults’ QoL suffers from the accumulative negative impact of ADHD symptoms/impairments on their professional, economic, social, and emotional well-being.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.



Adult ADHD quality of life measure


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder


  1. 1.

    American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental discorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Wetzel, M. W., & Burke, W. J. (2008). Addressing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in later adulthood. Clinical Geriatrics, 16(11), 33–39.

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Simon, V., Czobor, P., Balint, S., Meszaros, A., & Bitter, I. (2009). Prevalence and correlates of adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: Meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 194(3), 204–211.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Biederman, J., Faraone, S. V., Spencer, T. J., Mick, E., Monuteaux, M. C., & Aleardi, M. (2006). Functional impairments in adults with self-reports of diagnosed ADHD: A controlled study of 1001 adults in the community. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 67(4), 524–540.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Biederman, J., Wilens, T., Mick, E., Milberger, S., Spencer, T. J., & Faraone, S. V. (1995). Psychoactive substance use disorders in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Effects of ADHD and psychiatric comorbidity. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(11), 1652–1658.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Kollins, S. H., McClernon, F. J., & Fuemmeler, B. F. (2005). Association between smoking and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms in a population-based sample of young adults. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(10), 1142–1147.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Biederman, J., & Faraone, S. V. (2006). The effects of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder on employment and household income. MedGenMed, 8(3), 12.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    da Silva, M. A., Louza, M. (2008). Case of a 67-year-old woman diagnosed with ADHD successfully treated with methylphenidate. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11(6), 623.

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Guldberg-Kjar, T., Johansson, B. (2009). Old people reporting childhood AD/HD symptoms: Retrospectively self-rated AD/HD symptoms in a population-based Swedish sample aged 65–80. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 63(5), 375–382.

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Brod, M., Johnston, J., Able, S., Swindle, R. (2006). Validation of the adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder quality-of-life Scale (AAQoL): a disease-specific quality-of-life measure. Quality of Life Research, 15(1), 117–129.

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory; strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co.

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    U.S. Census Bureau. State & County QuickFacts [Internet]. Washington, D.C.: U.S Census Bureau; [updated 2011 Jun 3; cited 2011 Jun 19]. Available from:

  13. 13.

    Brook, D. W., Brook, J. S., Zhang, C., & Koppel, J. (2010). Association between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adolescence and substance use disorders in adulthood. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 164(10), 930–934.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. The American Psychologist, 59(8), 676–684.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Guest, G., Bunce, A., & Johnson, L. (2006). How many respondents are enough?: An experiment with data saturation and variability. Field Methods, 18(1), 59–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Meryl Brod.

Additional information

G. Niebler—formerly with Shire Pharmaceuticals, Wayne, PA, USA.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Brod, M., Schmitt, E., Goodwin, M. et al. ADHD burden of illness in older adults: a life course perspective. Qual Life Res 21, 795–799 (2012).

Download citation


  • Attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity
  • Quality of life
  • Adult
  • Aged