The entire world has been hit hard by COVID, and studies show that the ADHD community has been particularly affected. Individuals with untreated ADHD exhibit more severe COVID symptoms and an increased likelihood of hospitalization. Furthermore, the pandemic’s shutdown and social distancing requirements appear to exacerbate the day-to-day problems that ADHD sufferers experience.
Does ADHD increase an individual’s risk of contracting COVID-19?
Yes, according to “ADHD as a Risk Factor for Infection with COVID-19,” a study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Researchers found that the rate of ADHD was significantly higher among COVID subjects, regardless of gender, age or the presence of other chronic mental or physical disorders.
Another group of researchers, also publishing in the Journal of Attention Disorders, found that characteristics of ADHD — forgetfulness, impulsivity, and risk-taking behaviors — “interfere with the ability to comply with WHO demands for the prevention of COVID-19 infection” and may contribute to the increased probability of exposure to infection.”
However, this second study — “The Association between ADHD and the Severity of COVID-19 Infection” — also found that the risk of virus exposure among people with ADHD symptoms (hyperactivity and impulsivity) was significantly lower for those taking stimulant medication. In fact, the infection rate for individuals with treated ADHD was the same as that for the non-ADHD population, about 10%, versus an infection rate of 15% for those with untreated ADHD.
Subsequent research revealed that ADHD is associated with poorer outcomes in COVID infections. Individuals with unmedicated ADHD are not only at an increased risk of acquiring COVID-19, but they are also subject to an increased severity of the infection. Higher rates of referral to hospitalization suggests the need for vigilance in caring for ADHD patients who are COVID positive.
The “ADHD as a Risk Factor for Infection with COVID-19” research reiterates the importance of adhering to ADHD treatment. “This is an important finding, since it could encourage healthcare systems to identify (the ADHD) population at risk, to increase their awareness to the necessary preventive actions, and to guide their parents, teachers, or personal caretakers to monitor carefully their behavior and the COVID-19 status,” concluded the study.
What other impacts has the pandemic had on the ADHD population?
More than 2,000 Israeli adults participated in an online survey pertaining to how they adapted to the first pandemic quarantine. The study, “Symptoms of ADHD Predict Lower Adaptation to the COVID-19 Outbreak,” found that “people with ADHD are more vulnerable to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore deserve special attention and care.” Such challenges include financial struggles, psychological distress and difficulty adhering to virus prevention measures, among others.
Licensed psychotherapist Ana Sokolovic works with adults, children, and adolescents. Some of her clients with ADHD have encountered great struggles to re-create routines within the lockdown, especially with the entire family being at home.
“It has been extremely challenging for them to set boundaries between work and personal time,” says Sokolovic, “and this has negatively affected their overall productivity and their stress levels regarding work.”
Sokolovic explains that the accessibility of distractions makes it difficult to manage focus and not procrastinate. “Anxiety that most of us experience around COVID already has a significant effect on the ability to maintain focus,” she says. “And this effect is amplified in individuals who already have difficulties managing their attention.”
Washington, DC-based therapist Rebecca Tolbert specializes in working with women who have ADHD. “My clients overwhelmingly have felt more distracted and frustrated due to the change in structures and systems,” she says. “Quarantines and working from home have negatively impacted ADHD folks in ways that haven’t impacted neurotypical individuals.”
Tolbert explains that without the external support offered by many workplaces and schools, people with ADHD are feeling more burned out, depressed, and anxious — working for longer days yet feeling less productive.
For some, COVID restrictions have had a positive impact
Still, some of Sokolovic’s clients with ADHD have noticed an increase in their productivity and fewer symptoms involving the anxiety that typically accompanies their social interactions.
“They prefer online communication, which allows them to reread messages and take their time to respond,” observes Sokolovic. “While on Zoom, they are able to freely fidget without fearing that someone may judge them negatively for it or to walk while on the call, which helps them listen more attentively.”
Some individuals with ADHD also find that not having to commute gives them an extra hour of sleep or time to prepare a healthy meal — things that help them feel more energized and ready for the day instead of feeling rushed.
Still others are finally seeking help for their previously undiagnosed ADHD. Billy Roberts is a licensed therapist in Columbus, Ohio. His practice, Focused Mind ADHD Counseling, focuses exclusively on adults with ADHD. Roberts has found that one of the biggest psychological events resulting from COVID is an emerging awareness of ADHD symptoms.
“Many folks who were not previously diagnosed with ADHD began recognizing symptoms,” Roberts says. “And for many, their suspicions turned out to be valid.”
Roberts explains that ADHD is underdiagnosed in adults for a variety of reasons. “Many undiagnosed people found that working from home eliminated structure and routine of their work life,” he says. “Having the rug pulled out triggered an escalation of attention issues and made finding solid ground on which to find work balance a huge struggle.”
“In hindsight, many adults with undiagnosed ADHD knew they had attention issues and their childhood history lined up with diagnosis,” Roberts says. “However, many found jobs in fields that fit their ADHD or developed sufficient coping skills so it didn’t become an issue until the pandemic struck.”
Awareness and diagnosis will enable ADHD sufferers to seek out the help they need to cope with their symptoms.
Journal of Attention Disorders: Symptoms of ADHD Predict Lower Adaptation to the COVID-19 Outbreak: Financial Decline, Low Adherence to Preventive Measures, Psychological Distress, and Illness-Related Negative Perceptions