Brain Differences in Adults Who Recover from ADHD

woman swinging on tire swingAbout 11% of all children are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) at some point, but some of these children grow into adults without ADHD. A new study suggests that these changes aren’t subjective. Instead, adults who recover from ADHD show distinct brain differences.

How Recovery from ADHD Changes the Brain

Researchers already know that, among adults and children with ADHD who aren’t focusing on a task, the brain’s posterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex don’t synchronize their activity. The new study examined how these brain areas work together in adults who had previously been diagnosed with ADHD to see if recovery from ADHD changed the brain.

The study looked at 35 adults diagnosed with ADHD as children. Thirteen still had symptoms of the ADHD, while 22 had recovered. The researchers used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine how the subjects’ brains behaved when they weren’t focused on a specific task. In a surprising twist, though, the new study found that adults who recovered from ADHD showed synchronicity between the two brain regions—a brain pattern identical to the brain patterns shown in people who have never been diagnosed with ADHD.

Environment, Medication, and the Brain

This study might seem to suggest a biological basis for ADHD, and even a potential test for the condition. But environmental and lifestyle choices can change the brain. Carey Heller, PsyD, a ADHD topic expert, points out that both medication and therapy can change the brain, and he emphasizes the way lifestyle choices can affect both the symptoms of ADHD and the way the disorder looks on a brain scan.

Children have little control over their environments, but adults may be able to choose jobs, working environments, or habits that minimize their symptoms,” said Heller. Perhaps these changed brain scans are the result of a concerted effort to cope more effectively with ADHD. If that’s the case, then this research points to the importance of early interventions for helping children recover from ADHD in adulthood.

Heller is also skeptical about whether ADHD actually goes away, or just changes. “It’s unclear whether ADHD actually goes away in adulthood, or if the symptoms change,” he says. Maybe some adults with ADHD experience atypical symptoms that look different on a brain scan.

No matter how you interpret the data, though, brain differences in adults previously diagnosed with ADHD can help lead the way toward future research. The study was small, so more research is necessary to determine whether and how the adult brain changes in response to both ADHD and treatment for ADHD.


Inside the adult ADHD brain: Differences between adults who have recovered, and those who have not. (2014, June 10). Retrieved from

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  • Steve

    June 16th, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    I too wonder if this goes away or maybe as an adult you learn better ways to manage it? And you can kind of be in a place where you can pick and choose many more of the things that you do on a daily basis as an adult, more than you can as a kid in a rigid classroom. This helps if you do have ADHD in that you find areas where you can work and that actually work with you, not against the things that you are experiencing internally. I don’t doubt that for some there is a cure, but for many others, either they still live with or they simply find ways in life where it does not have to hold them back quite as much anymore.

  • Charla

    June 17th, 2014 at 4:24 AM

    Are the changes for the better or are you saying that some of the differences look like they could be harmful? I know that we can change how we function but it sounds a little scary to me that there are actual differences in the brain than what is evidenced in those without ADHD or have never been treated for that. So that’s what I would like to know, is this something that looks bad, or is it something that just looks kind of different from the norm? And I am only guessing that this is in those people who actually feel like they have recovered from ADHD and maybe not those who are still going through ongoing treatment, because I know that there are still plenty of adults who struggle with this. It doesn’t necessarily get easier just because we get older.

  • Debbie Hill

    June 19th, 2014 at 4:54 AM

    What causes an adult (50) to develop ADD?

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