Is COVID to Blame for the Spike in ADHD?

COVID and ADHD

The number of people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also known as attention-deficit disorder (ADD), is skyrocketing. From 2019 to 2022, the use of stimulant medications for the condition more than doubled, according to a report in a 2023 issue of European Neuropsychopharmacology. The increase is contributing to a nationwide shortage of Adderall, Ritalin, and other ADD/ADHD medications. What’s behind it all? In the same 2023 report, a group of 13 scientists suggests that COVID may be to blame for the recent dramatic increase in ADD/ADHD cases.

In a 2023 report, 13 scientists suggest that COVID may be to blame for a recent dramatic increase in ADD/ADHD cases. Click To Tweet

LONG COVID AND INATTENTION

Long COVID is a debilitating condition involving lasting neurological and psychiatric issues. According to research, it affects over 10% of all people who are infected by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It is estimated that more than 65 million people worldwide are struggling with its effects. Long COVID can affect anyone who has had the infection, including those who were hospitalized and people with mild cases.

To date, over 200 long COVID symptoms have been identified, including cognitive impairment, memory issues, and insomnia. According to a 2023 study in the Journal of Attention Disorders, the most common neuropsychiatric symptoms include:

  • Fatigue (58%)
  • Headache (44%)
  • Attention symptoms (27%)
  • Memory loss (15%)

Collectively, the cognitive issues seen in long COVID, also called post-COVID-19 syndrome, are known as brain fog. In general, brain fog refers to problems with concentration, memory recall, executive functions, processing speed, and more.

The connection between COVID infections and mental health problems is already well-documented. A 2022 study in BMJ found that more than 2.8 million new cases of mental health disorders can likely be attributed to COVID infections. These include:

Experts suggest that long COVID inflammation may be a factor in the onset of mental health disorders and inattention.

CASE STUDY: ADD/ADHD AFTER COVID INFECTION

A 2023 issue of the Journal of Attention Disorders included a fascinating case study about a 61-year-old man with no previous history of attention problems who developed ADD/ADHD-like symptoms post-COVID infection. The man contracted COVID in February 2021 and spent 15 days in the hospital. After being discharged, he began to develop some long COVID symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, and insomnia. A few months after his release, he started experiencing attention problems and memory loss.

The man began to exhibit symptoms commonly seen in ADD/ADHD, such as carelessly misplacing personal items, forgetting to take his medication, spacing out on appointments, and forgetting to close the garage door when he arrived home. He also developed new difficulties, including challenges with planning, reading, and sleeping.

“A worrisome attention deficit suddenly appeared,” the man explained. “The practical blunders I made bordered on the comical but were dangerous. For example, I forgot to take medication, or I took it twice or took it at another time. I felt insecure, I started to drive as little as possible for fear of causing an accident.”

In this case, the man did not have depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, so his inattention could not be attributed to these other mental health problems. The man’s physicians used a combination of ADD/ADHD medications and other treatments to address his issues. Eventually, he achieved a 57.5% reduction in symptoms. In particular, the treatment improved his memory loss, fatigue, and insomnia.

“Luckily and unexpectedly,” the man said, “the medication that was effective in the attention deficit also helped with the fatigue. Today I am much more like the person I used to be.”

HOW THE PANDEMIC IS IMPACTING ADD/ADHD

The effects of long COVID aren’t the only way the pandemic has impacted inattention. Social distancing and quarantine restrictions have had a major influence on ADD/ADHD-like symptoms, according to the 2023 report in European Neuropsychopharmacology mentioned above. In part, this is due to the increased use of social media, gaming, and other technologies that contribute to distractibility and inattention.

Researchers have found that teens who consume the most social media and engage in the most texting are at greater risk of developing ADD/ADHD. In this study, which looked at the social media use of over 2,500 high school students, heavy use of digital media increased the odds of ADD/ADHD symptoms by about 10%.

TREATING POST-COVID ADD/ADHD-LIKE SYMPTOMS

If you’re struggling with inattention symptoms after having COVID, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. Recommended treatments may include a host of natural solutions for ADD/ADHD and medications (if needed). However, considering the shortage of ADD/ADHD medications, it’s more critical than ever to incorporate natural strategies into your daily routine.

Brain SPECT imaging at Amen Clinics shows that ADD/ADHD is associated with low activity in the prefrontal cortex. This brain region is involved with planning, forethought, judgment, and impulse control. Here are 4 simple strategies that enhance activity in the PFC and can be helpful in reducing ADD/ADHD symptoms:

  • Exercise: High-intensity physical activity enhances blood flow and is associated with reductions in symptoms.
  • Eat a higher-protein diet: Consuming foods that are higher in protein increases focus and is beneficial for most people with ADD/ADHD.
  • Reduce screen time: Spending too much time on video games, social media, and other tech gadgets increases attentional problems, according to research in Plos One. Screen time should be limited to less than half an hour per day.
  • Consider nutritional supplements: Research shows that omega-3 fatty acid supplements improve attention in those with ADD/ADHD. Other nutraceuticals that promote healthy attention include rhodiola, ashwagandha, green tea extract, and ginseng.
  • Focus on what not to do. Avoid things that make ADD/ADHD symptoms worse. Eliminating these bad habits can help keep symptoms in check.

ADD/ADHD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

6 Comments »

  1. Or could it be attributed to the injection perhaps?

    Comment by Louise — July 12, 2023 @ 5:08 AM

  2. Thank you for this information on long Covid. My young grandson was hospitalized for Covid . He shows symptoms of long Covid to this day. But I also believe that children who consume dye; red 40 which I find is still on the market in products even though it was supposed to be taken off, now under different names) has the same affects.

    Comment by Jean — July 12, 2023 @ 5:59 AM

  3. I believe the shot is causing most of the problems

    Comment by Roseanne — July 12, 2023 @ 6:36 AM

  4. I really appreciate your content so much. My 23 year old was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and has had numerous concussions. He has had covid at least three times. The struggles are constant and daily. He works on developing strategies to be independent as an adult but it’s such a challenge. If I ever get the money, we will come to one of your clinics (we live in Western Canada and I don’t think there’s anything like what you do here?). Thanks again for all that you share!!

    Comment by Errin — July 12, 2023 @ 9:33 AM

  5. I've read the linked research report regarding screen time and attention. It's not clear to me that this is a causative association, and there was some wording that suggested it might actually be correlative:

    "As such, it is possible parents may respond to children who exhibit externalizing behavior difficulties by offering more screen-time or using increased opportunity for screen-time as a self-soothing strategy."

    As someone with ADHD, and knowing how screen activity affects me, I'm much more inclined to think that this study shows a correlation between more screen time and likelihood of ADHD, instead of suggesting that more screen time can cause ADHD. However, I'm not an expert, and I recognize that there may be bias in my evaluation.

    So, I'm wondering if any experts can clarify one way or the other on this subject.

    Furthermore, I would suggest that, if the study is not clearly indicating a causative effect for screen time and ADHD, then this blog post should probably be amended to make it clear, since it seems to suggest that screen time is causative of ADHD. ("Spending too much time on video games, social media, and other tech gadgets increases attentional problems, according to research in Plos One." )

    Also, your statement regarding another study also strongly suggests causality:

    "Researchers have found that teens who consume the most social media and engage in the most texting are at greater risk of developing ADD/ADHD."

    However, the forward to that linked article clearly says that causality is not at all clear:

    "More frequent use of digital media may be associated with development of ADHD symptoms; further research is needed to assess whether this association is causal."

    Again, this blog post should be amended to make it clear that such causality is not at all well-indicated.

    Thanks,

    Earl

    Comment by Earl Jenkins — July 12, 2023 @ 12:00 PM

  6. Side effects of the vaccine and Long Covid symptoms sound very similar and I have read that they are. I would like to know if the subjects in the data collected were vaccinated or not? It would be interesting to see what percentage of patients who had covid were vaccinated? And whether long covid affects both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated equally? Thank you…

    Comment by Julie — July 26, 2023 @ 1:34 AM

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