Differences in brain structure and memory suggest adolescents may not ‘grow out of’ ADHD

The findings, just published in the journal European Child Adolescent Psychiatry, suggest that aspects of ADHD may persist into adulthood, even when current diagnostic criteria fail to identify the disorder.

“Good memory function supports a variety of other mental processes, and memory problems can certainly hold people back in terms of success in education and the workplace.”

– Graham Murray

ADHD is a disorder characterised by short attention span, restlessness and impulsivity, and is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. Estimates suggest that more than three in every 100 boys and just under one in every 100 girls has ADHD. Less is known about the extent to which the disorder persists into adulthood, with estimates suggesting that between 10-50% of children still have ADHD in adulthood. Diagnosis in adulthood is currently reliant on meeting symptom checklists (such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual).

Some have speculated that as the brain develops in adulthood, children may grow out of ADHD, but until now there has been little rigorous evidence to support this. So far, most of the research that has followed up children and adolescents with ADHD into adulthood has focused on interview-based assessments, leaving questions of brain structure and function unanswered.

Now, researchers at Cambridge and Oulu have followed up 49 adolescents diagnosed with ADHD at age 16, to examine their brain structure and memory function in young adulthood, aged between 20-24 years old, compared to a control group of 34 young adults. The research was based within the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986, which has followed up thousands of children born in 1986 from gestation and birth into adulthood. The results showed that the group diagnosed in adolescence still had problems in terms of reduced brain volume and poorer memory function, irrespective of whether or not they still met diagnostic checklist criteria for ADHD.



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