Adults with ADHD Experience Difficulties with Future Planning

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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  • Thalia

    April 20th, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    If one thing cannot hold you attention for a substantial amount of time then you would definitely have trouble keeping up with upcoming events or appointments.

    Not only is this bad on a personal level but may also come in the way of maintaining relationships with other people,as rightly pointed out in the article.I am not diagnosed but at times I think I may have certain symptoms myself.

    I just cannot plan extensively and my attention spans only seem to be decreasing.What can I do to ensure I fix this?Because I certainly hope and wish do not have ADHD.

  • Bunny

    April 20th, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    My thoughts would then be that for those working with adult patienbts who have ADHD, they need to help them to develop strategies to better equip them with things that could help them to better remember upcoming events and the like.
    We do this with students in school- teach them ways to become better organized. . . then why not with adults who have difficulty in this area too?

  • Noni Mausa

    April 20th, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Adding to the difficulty is a much reduced sense of time. Once immersed in an activity, an ADDer can completely lose track of other pressing chores, and we have a very imperfect grasp of how long it takes to do something. (ALWAYS longer than we think.) Add to that our often exuberant approach to life, and our perpetual feeling that there’s PLENTY of time left to do X, Y and Z, and we end up with a life full of scrambling for, and missing, deadlines. Many of us suffer depression as well as ADHD — it’s just amazing more of us don’t. I finally gave up volunteering, after stuffing my calendar for decades with things I might or might not end up doing. :-(

  • fred

    April 20th, 2013 at 11:40 PM

    while its sad that people have to go through this they can reduce using different methods.make notes,an alarm in a wristwatch,a smartphone can help a lot interactive planner with constant reminders may help to a great extent.yes they may still have issues but reducing them as much as possible is a good start in my opinion.

  • Cheryl C

    April 22nd, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    Adults who have ADHD may have an even harder time than children. There seems to be this mentality that oh, they are older, they should be able to manage. But what if they have never been given the tools to make them successful or to show them how to juggle all of tlife’s little intricacies?

  • Anonymous

    May 12th, 2013 at 6:12 PM

    My rules for surviving ADHD
    1. Take your medication every day
    2. Do not marry or date
    3. Do not have children
    4. Use a smartphone
    5. Do not have cable tv in your home
    6. Rent
    7. Use online banking to auto pay bills every month
    a. Purchase everything with one credit card, set to autmatically pay balance every month
    8. Do not drink or smoke
    9. Get sterilized
    10. Women: get a Mooncup
    11. Buy a diesel car. Keep it well maintenanced & with luck it might outlive you.
    12. Don’t gamble
    13. Take GABA
    14. Quit bread & other baked goods.
    15. Learn to depend on yourself. We’re too inconsistant & unreliable to expect help

  • Sunny J.

    March 19th, 2015 at 11:39 AM

    Lol surprisingly true . Being a hermit helps too lol

  • Louise

    May 5th, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    This might be overlooked when dealing with people with ADHD. Future planning can get demanding and tedious and it is just now that I realized how difficult this can be for people with ADHD.

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