Genetic vulnerability to ADHD signals risk of Alzheimer’s disease in old age

Genetic predisposition to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can predict cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease later in life, revealed an analysis published today in Molecular Psychiatry by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers.

Although recent large epidemiological studies have hinted at a link between ADHD and Alzheimer’s, this is the first to tie genetic risk of ADHD to chances of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“This study highlights what many in the field are already discussing: The impact of ADHD can be observed throughout the lifespan, and it might be linked to neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead author Douglas Leffa, M.D., Ph.D., psychiatry resident at UPMC.

Senior author Tharick Pascoal, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Pitt, added that “with new treatments becoming available at earlier stages of Alzheimer’s progression, it is important to determine risk factors to help better identify patients who are likely to progress to severe disease.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals with ADHD report feeling restless and impulsive and have difficulty maintaining their attention, which leads to reduced quality of their social, school or work lives. For a long time, ADHD was considered a childhood disease that people grow out of after entering adulthood. Doctors now know that ADHD is a childhood disease that may persist into adulthood. The symptoms of ADHD in adults may be more diverse and subtle when compared to children and adolescents, and it can be particularly difficult to diagnose in older adults.

Not unlike other behavioral disorders, ADHD has a genetic component. But there is no one single gene that will dictate whether its carrier will go on to develop ADHD. Rather, that risk is determined by a combination of small genetic changes.

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