By Alycia Gordan,
The National Alliance on Mental Illness conveys that approximately 43.8 million or every 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness in any given year. Although two of the most common disorders that affect people are depression and anxiety disorders, cases of dementia such as Alzheimer’s are increasing in number too. Currently, WHO estimates that 47 million people are living with dementia and the figure will go up to 75 million by 2030.
Unfortunately, a lot of cases of dementia go unnoticed and untreated because the symptoms often mimic the things that are associated with old age. Even first world countries have thousands of people that go undiagnosed, and this causes a toll not only on the patient and his family but also on the economy.
Now even though there are many reasons, such as a genetic predisposition, lifestyle, and other such factors that have been known to contribute towards dementia, the one thing we will focus on today is ADHD. However, before we can hope to look at the connection between the two mental diseases, it is imperative that you have an idea about what they are.
Not too long ago, ADHD or attention deficient/hyperactivity disorder was thought to affect children alone. The National Institutes of Health tells that even though most of the 8-12% children experience a decline in symptoms, almost 4% carry through the signs later in life. Though there are some factors which act as contributors in ADHD such as genes, exposure to environmental toxins, low birth weight, and brain injuries, the exact cause has not yet been identified.
- Low persistence
The typical child with ADHD will find it challenging to focus on any given task, will be hyperactive, and will have difficulties in academics and personal relationships. They will also often display erratic behavior in social settings and other such crowded places.
On the other hand, even though adults with ADHD will have a chaotic lifestyle, they may not experience the same levels of hyperactivity as children. Some of these adult patients may be substance abusers and have problems managing and self-organization because they cannot prioritize the tasks ahead of them.
Dementia and its types
Dementia is a loose term that’s used to define memory loss and cognitive impairment of several levels. Some of the most common kinds of dementia are Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia with Lewy Bodies, Huntington’s disease, and vascular dementia. Though each of these diseases come with their own set of symptoms, some signs such as reduced concentration, memory loss, increased confusion, and depression are common to all. This is why it is often challenging to detect one over the other, and it is advisable to take an online Alzheimers test first. If you or a loved one is faced with these symptoms and think that you might improve the condition by identifying the issue earlier, it is vital that you take online tests and consult a professional for diagnosis.
The type of dementia which is linked with ADHD is that with Lewy Bodies, also known as DLB. Known as the 2nd most common type of dementia, DLB can sometimes look like Parkinson’s. Both diseases present as microscopic abnormalities in the nerve cells called Lewy bodies and patients face movement problems, experience hallucinations, cognitive issues, and eventually a difficulty in carrying out daily life.
However, one thing that helps in setting the two apart is that while patients with Parkinson’s hallucinate due to the side-effects of medication, hallucinations are some of the early signs in patients with DLB. In a nutshell, people who present motor difficulties before cognitive impairment are diagnosed with Parkinson’s and those that face mental problems before motor symptoms often have dementia with Lewy bodies.
So, now that you have in-depth knowledge of both of these diseases let’s look at some of the most research that shows a link between them.
One of the first studies that detected a connection between ADHD and dementia was conducted in 2011 by Dr. Angel Golimstok and associates at the Hospital Italiano Buenos Aires in Argentina. The researchers hypothesized that ADHD could be the first step towards pathway disorders and that the problem may worsen and degenerate over a long time and result in a type of dementia.
The study used 360 patients with dementia among which 109 had Lewy bodies, and 251 were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and 149 healthy controls who were matched according to age, sex, and education. The results of the research showed that 48% of patients with DLB had also previously suffered from ADHD symptoms and were 3x more likely to develop dementia. The analyses behind the study concluded that there is a link between ADHD and dementia because both diseases showcase problematic neurotransmitter pathways.
Another recent Taiwanese research which was conducted in June 2017 and published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found was adults with ADHD had a higher chance of developing dementia. The study focused on the data given to them by Taiwan’s National Health Insurance and picked out 675 adults between the ages of 18 to 54 who have previously been diagnosed with ADHD.
Other than these patients, the research also included a control group of more than 2,000 people who didn’t have ADHD. The survey, which was conducted over a 10-year period showed that adults who were diagnosed with ADHD earlier were 3.4 times likelier to be diagnosed with a form of dementia.
However, both of these studies are not without their limitations. For instance, while a link between ADHD and dementia with Lewy bodies was found in the Argentina research, not all patients were diagnosed correctly with ADHD. Instead, the researchers focused on ADHD, dementia, and Alzheimer’s symptoms which were at times narrated by close friends and family instead of the patient. This might have caused inconsistencies because the signs aren’t always as they seem and what the onlooker thinks may be very different from how the patient feels.
The Taiwanese study’s researchers also noted that their research had several limitations. The data pool from where the information was extracted consisted of material with insurance claims. Though it had information about people diagnosed with ADHD or dementia, it didn’t throw light on the family history, education or the lifestyle of the participants.
Research and studies about mental disorders, their causes and treatments are being conducted at an exponential rate. Though there’s still some stigma attached to it, people around the world are becoming more open to such diseases and striving to manage the symptoms. However, research on the link between ADHD and dementia is still fresh, and although a couple of investigations have found a connection, a lot more data and studies are required to reach a scientific conclusion.
ABOUT Alycia Gordan
Alycia Gordan is a freelance writer who loves to read and write articles on healthcare technology, fitness and lifestyle. She is a tech junkie and divides her time between travel and writing. You can find her on Twitter: @meetalycia