Prospective memory describes the ability to remember to do something in the future, like go to a doctor’s appointment or attend a meeting. Research on attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) in children has shown that deficits exist in numerous areas of cognitive functioning and behavior control. In fact, behavioral and cognitive difficulties appear to be equally pervasive in children with ADHD. However, as children mature, they overcome the challenges they face with behavioral issues, but cognitive obstacles still exist. Adult ADHD is thought to affect cognitive tasks such as planning, shifting attention, and other executive functions. But the influence of ADHD on prospective memory in adults is still unknown.
Anselm B. M. Fuermaier of the Department of Clinical and Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands recently led a study that looked at which prospective memory deficits were present in a sample of 45 adults with ADHD. The participants, who were not on medication for ADHD, were presented with a paradigm that required they plan for, initiate action toward and execute an act in the future. Fuermaier compared the performance of the participants with ADHD to that of 45 non-ADHD adults throughout the process and found several differences.
The biggest deficit that appeared in the ADHD participants was in the area of planning. They made less detailed plans and planned less for multiple future events than the control participants. Initiation of the plan was another area in which the two groups differed significantly. Although both groups were able to recall an impending event, the ADHD participants had difficulty initiating their action plans. “Prospective memory is crucial for everyday occupational and social functioning,” said Fuermaier. Not only is it essential in order to complete most activities related to work, family, and social interactions, it is also critical to treatment. Clients who cannot remember to attend therapy appointments or who forget to take their medications at designated times are at risk of experiencing worsening symptoms. This can result in negative outcomes such as physical illness, job loss, and relationship conflict that can ultimately increase stress. Overall, this research shows that prospective memory deficits exist in adults with ADHD and addressing this should be part of any treatment program.
Fuermaier, A.B.M., Tucha, L., Koerts, J., Aschenbrenner, S., Westermann, C., et al. (2013). Complex prospective memory in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58338. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058338
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