What if we don’t treat ADHD?
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
A lot of people worry about medication side effects, want to be all natural, or just plain forget to take their medicines. What’s the harm in that? Is it really a big deal if we don’t treat ADHD? Is there risk of not treating ADHD?
I have had the privilege of hearing Dr. Russell Barkley, an internationally acclaimed expert on ADHD, speak three times about his research results showing the long term impact of ADHD on our lifespan. He came to Kansas City to present at a Grand Rounds at Children’s Mercy Hospital and again at the Midwest ADHD Conference in April 2018. He presented the same information at the 2018 International ADHD Conference in St. Louis this past November. During each of the the three talks he made big impressions in audience members.
Why am I blogging about it now?
I’m excited to see that he’s giving a FREE webinar through Additude Magazine, How ADHD Shortens Life Expectancy: What Parents and Doctors Need to Know to Take Action. It’s happening later this month and I wanted to write this to show how important the topic is and to encourage you to register so you can hear him for yourself.
When is the webinar? Tuesday, January 29, 2019, at 1:00 EST/noon CST.
If you can’t make the webinar live but you’ve registered, you’ll get a copy to listen later. A win either way!
Here’s a recorded version that’s circulating online. The main talk begins after 3:30.
What’s the big deal?
We all know adults who have had untreated (even undiagnosed) ADHD all their life and seem to do well. Some people seem to be able to control their symptoms of ADHD or they outgrow them.
There are even those who think certain aspects of their ADHD help them thrive.
There’s significant risk for many with ADHD
Unfortunately, not everyone outgrows ADHD and many people suffer from untreated problems, especially when they’re young and haven’t learned to adequately manage the frustrations that ADHD can cause.
Dr. Barkley’s long term study has shown some very distressing results. Children with ADHD have a shortened life expectancy of over 9 years. Adults with persistent ADHD symptoms have an even more significantly shortened life expectancy of nearly 13 years.
Dr. Barkley’s research is very compelling
The complete study, Hyperactive Child Syndrome and Estimated Life Expectancy at Young Adult Follow-Up: The Role of ADHD Persistence and Other Potential Predictors, was recently published in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall, meaning you cannot read the complete results unless you have paid for access or are a student or educator with that benefit. (But the webinar is free!)
Life Course Impairments
Dr. Barkley has found that many risks associated with ADHD can lead to life problems, including premature death.
We all know that kids with ADHD struggle in school without proper supports. This is linked to lower educational success, lower paying jobs, and more family stress.
Many people with ADHD get anxious and depressed due to circumstances created by their ADHD. This can lead to more problems in school, interpersonal relationships, self medicating with drugs and alcohol, legal problems, and even death by suicide.
Inattention and impulsivity increase the risk of accidental injury and death. Other risky behaviors can lead to unplanned pregnancies.
Problems with executive functioning can lead to problems at home with significant others and in parenting. Many adults with ADHD show problems at work and in maintaining a consistent job.
Impulsive eating can lead to obesity, and all the long term health consequences associated with that. These include diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic problems, and more.
A public health problem
Dr. Barkley asserts that we should approach ADHD as a public health problem.
During his talk in St. Louis, one of Dr. Barkley’s slides proposed that “ADHD is a serious public health problem; it accounts for greater reductions is ELE [expected life expectancy] than any single risk factor of concern to public health and medical professionals, such as smoking, excess alcohol use, obesity, or risky driving among other widely accepted health risks.”
The good news
The good news is that many of these risks can be minimized with proper management.
If we support our students to help them succeed in school, they are more likely to continue in their education. When people attain a higher education level, they are able to get more fulfilling jobs and earn better incomes.
Proper management of ADHD and executive function problems can help prevent and treat depression and anxiety. With less depression and anxiety, parents can be better parents, workers better workers, and partners better partners. Self medication with drugs and alcohol will be less, resulting in fewer problems that are linked to those issues: less crime, healthier bodies, less risky behaviors and fewer accidents.
Encouraging healthy habits, such as regular exercise and proper nutrition, helps everyone live a longer, healthier life. This is no different for those with ADHD, so it is important to help them overcome poor dietary habits and inadequate exercise to improve their overall lifespan.
What can be done?
We can use behavioral interventions, training for patients and parents of children with ADHD, educational support, and medication to optimize management of ADHD.
When properly diagnosed and treated, individuals with ADHD can be very successful in life. That’s why ADHDKC was started… to help those with ADHD learn to thrive!