ADHD Diagnosis Rates On The Rise Among US Adults

Adults cases of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—more commonly known as ADHD—in the United States has grown significantly over the past few years.  A new study has found this rising adult ADHD diagnosis trends in data from the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health system, collected between 2007 and 2016. The study looked at diagnostic data collected from electronic medical records of more than 5.2 million adults. 

Specifically, the study identified a 43 percent increase in the rate of new diagnoses among adults over that ten year period.  As such, lead study author Dr. Michael Milham comments, “While we can’t pinpoint the source of the increase in ADHD rates in adults, we can surmise that it has to do with growing recognition of ADHD in the adult populations by doctors and service providers, as well as increased public awareness of ADHD overall.”

Looking closely at the data, the researchers estimated the annual prevalence rates for ADHD diagnoses, comparing them also against known racial differences.  They found that even though annual adult ADHD prevalence did increase for every years over the ten year study period, detection rates were lower among ethnic minorities; also white adults had a consistently higher prevalence. 

Obviously, it is important to continue working on developing more effective diagnostic tools and standards for American adults, especially since their diagnoses are typically more complex. 

Additional, study co-lead Dr. Winston Chung, noted that sometimes an entire culture is less likely to think of certain behaviors as a disorder or seek help because of them. The Kaiser Permanente (San Francisco) psychiatrist explains, “It’s always been just understood that different cultures and races might vary in meaningful ways in how they cope with stress or expressing emotions.”

Overall, annual ADHA incidence among all adults grew from 9.43 diagnoses per 10,000 people to 13.49 diagnoses per 10,000 between 2007 and 2016.  In the study, on its own, diagnosis prevalence grew from 0.43 percent to 0.96 percent over the same period. 

At the end of the day, Milham concludes, “Our findings offer hope that ADHD is increasingly being recognized and treated in adults, and will motivate future population studies to further assess diagnosis rates and trends.”

The results of this study have been published in the November 1 issue of the journal JAMA Network Open. 

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