Does having ADHD put you at higher risk of dying prematurely?
Researchers have identified ADHD as a key risk factor in premature death among adults. A study published in The Lancet showed that people with ADHD have a lower life expectancy and are more than twice as likely to die prematurely as those without the disorder. Accidents were flagged as the most common cause of death in people with ADHD. Also the relative risk of dying prematurely was shown to be much higher for women than men with ADHD.
In his keynote address at the 2018 International ADHD conference, ADHD expert Dr. Russell Barkley presented the results from his long term study of ADHD children that his team followed into adulthood. At the 20-year follow-up evaluation point, his data was evaluated using life insurance actuarial charts, which estimate expected remaining lifespan based on health and lifestyle measures. He found that children diagnosed with ADHD in childhood had a reduction on average of nearly 10 years in their healthy remaining life expectancy and over 8 years reduction in total remaining life. He also found that if ADHD persisted to young adulthood, the reduction in healthy life was nearly 13 years and was over 11 years in total life expectancy.
These findings confirmed earlier research conducted in the US and Scandinavia that indicated the risk of dying in childhood if a child had ADHD was nearly twice as likely than those without ADHD, while adults with ADHD were nearly five times as likely to die over a 10 year period, primarily due to accidental injuries and to a lesser extent, suicide. What Barkley’s study adds to this information from these earlier studies is that adverse health and lifestyle factors associated with ADHD – problems with self-regulation and planning – may take an additional toll on lifespan estimates beyond these risks of accidental injuries.
ADHD’s affect on goal-related behaviors is the source of decreased longevity, according to Dr. Barkley. Underdeveloped cognitive abilities related to ADHD undermine not only school and work but activities like driving, eating, and sleep. Under-treated ADHD increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, driving accidents, smoking, drinking, drug use, and more.
In this respect, he casts ADHD’s impact on longevity as a potentially huge public health issue. The significance of this is underscored by the demographics of ADHD. The solution? Barkley advocates for greater education ad understanding of ADHD as a medical condition affecting self-regulation and executive functioning, not just attention. He also argues for lifetime treatment using a wide variety of interventions, tailored to the individual, that have been shown to work.
The stakes are high. In 2016, the CDC estimated approximately 9.4% US children — 6.1 million — between the ages of 2 and 17 were diagnosed with ADHD. All of these children could be at greater risk of a shortened life span.
ADHD and Executive Function | Dr Russell Barkley