A population-based study of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms and associated impairment in middle-aged adults

PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31500. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031500. Epub 2012 Feb 8.


Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most prevalent childhood psychiatric condition. It frequently persists into adulthood and can have serious health and other adverse consequences. The majority of previous adult ADHD studies have focused on young adults so that relatively little is known about ADHD symptoms and their effects in mid and late life. In addition, effects of subclinical levels of attention deficit and hyperactivity have not been studied in detail. In this study we investigated ADHD symptoms and related impairment in a large population-based sample of middle-aged Australian adults (n = 2091; 47% male). Applying the WHO adult ADHD Self Report Screener (ASRS) we observed that 6.2% of participants had scores that were previously associated with ADHD diagnosis. No significant gender difference in the distribution of ASRS scores was observed. Multiple regression analyses indicated strong positive correlations between symptoms of ADHD and depression/anxiety and significant negative associations (p<0.01) with employment, financial stress, relationship quality, health and well-being measures in this age group. Importantly, associations were highly significant even when few ADHD symptoms were reported. Compared to the hyperactivity component, the inattention trait was particularly strongly associated and remained significant after controlling for depression/anxiety symptoms. Our study confirms previous findings and significantly adds to existing literature especially for an age-group that has not been well-studied. Our results suggest that ADHD symptoms continue to be associated with ill-health and functional impairment in mid-life and are, therefore, likely to be a major, previously unrecognized source of late-life morbidity with associated social and economic costs. Thus, there is a compelling need for better understanding and development of age-appropriate approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in mid- to late-life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Regression Analysis
  • Self Report
  • Socioeconomic Factors