Harvard Mental Health Letter

Recognizing and managing ADHD in adults

Symptoms tend to evolve and attenuate with age, but may still require treatment.

Many children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) continue to experience symptoms after reaching adulthood. One study based on a nationally representative survey estimated that slightly more than 4% of U.S. adults meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).

However, symptoms of ADHD tend to evolve and become more subtle with age. If overtly hyperactive behavior is part of the picture — for example, running around or having trouble sitting still — it usually emerges in childhood and is most noticeable during elementary school. By adolescence, hyperactivity often subsides or is manifested in less obvious ways, such as fidgeting or restlessness. By adulthood, the primary difficulty is with memory and attention (see "Diagnosing ADHD in adults") — causing problems not only at work, but also with personal relationships and finances.

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