Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in childhood is associated with impaired functioning in multiple cognitive domains: executive functioning (EF), reward and timing. Similar impairments have been described for adults with persistent ADHD, but an extensive investigation of neuropsychological functioning in a large sample of adult patients is currently lacking. We systematically examined neuropsychological performance on tasks measuring EF, delay discounting, time estimation and response variability using univariate ANCOVA's comparing patients with persistent ADHD (N=133, 42% male, mean age 36) and healthy adults (N=132, 40% male, mean age 36). In addition, we tested which combination of variables provided the highest accuracy in predicting ADHD diagnosis. We also estimated for each individual the severity of neuropsychological dysfunctioning. Lastly, we investigated potential effects of stimulant medication and a history of comorbid major depressive disorder (MDD) on performance. Compared to healthy adults, patients with ADHD showed impaired EF, were more impulsive, and more variable in responding. However, effect sizes were small to moderate (range: 0.05-0.70) and 11% of patients did not show neuropsychological dysfunctioning. The best fitting model predicting ADHD included measures from distinct cognitive domains (82.1% specificity, 64.9% sensitivity). Furthermore, patients receiving stimulant medication or with a history of MDD were not distinctively impaired. To conclude, while adults with ADHD as a group are impaired on several cognitive domains, the results confirm that adult ADHD is neuropsychologically heterogeneous. This provides a starting point to investigate individual differences in terms of impaired cognitive pathways.
Keywords: Adult ADHD; Executive function; Heterogeneity; Neuropsychology; Reaction time variability; Reward.
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