ADHD May Continue into Adulthood, Even If Tests Fail to Identify It

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Symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may continue from childhood through adulthood, even though current diagnostic measures may be unable to identify it.

Researchers followed 49 adolescents diagnosed with ADHD at age 16. They examined their brain structure and memory function in young adulthood, at 20-24 years old, and compared the findings to a control group of 34 young adults.

The group diagnosed in adolescence still had problems in terms of reduced brain volume and poorer memory function, regardless of whether or not they still met diagnostic checklist criteria for ADHD in adulthood, the researchers reported in the journal European Child Adolescent Psychiatry.

Through MRI scans, the researchers found that the adolescents with ADHD had reduced grey matter in the caudate nucleus, a key brain region that integrates information across different parts of the brain, and supports important cognitive functions, including memory.

They then conducted a functional MRI to measure brain activity while the participants took a test of working memory. One-third of the adolescents with ADHD failed the memory test compared to less than one in twenty of the control group.

“In the controls, when the test got harder, the caudate nucleus went up a gear in its activity, and this is likely to have helped solve the memory problems,” Graham Murray, PhD, of the University of Cambridge, said in a statement. “But in the group with adolescent ADHD, this region of the brain is smaller and doesn’t seem to be able to respond to increasing memory demands, with the result that memory performance suffers.”

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Those diagnosed in adolescence still had problems in terms of poorer memory function, even if they didn't met diagnostic criteria for ADHD in adulthood.

Aspects of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may persist into adulthood, even when current diagnostic measures fail to identify its presence, according to new research published in the journal European Child Adolescent Psychiatry.

The findings show that young adults who had been diagnosed with ADHD in adolescence have differences in brain structure and perform poorly in memory tests compared to their peers.

Some experts have speculated that as the brain develops in adulthood, children may grow out of ADHD, but until now there has been minimal rigorous research to support this. 

So far, most studies that have followed up on children and adolescents with ADHD into adulthood have focused on interview-based assessments, leaving questions of brain structure and function unanswered.

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