As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the globe, scientists are exploring a variety of factors that may increase an individual’s risk of contracting COVID-19, including ADHD. In a recent study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders1, researchers examined the association between having an ADHD diagnosis and the risk of testing positive for COVID-19. The study analyzed health insurance records of roughly 14,000 children and adults from March 2020-April 2020.
Results showed that individuals with untreated (meaning unmedicated) ADHD were 52% more likely to have tested positive for COVID-19 than individuals without ADHD. Interestingly, individuals with ADHD who were taking stimulant medication did not have a higher risk of COVID-19 infection, suggesting that actively treating ADHD symptoms reduces COVID-19 risk.
While at first glance a link between COVID-19 and ADHD may seem surprising, when we take a step back, it makes sense that ADHD symptoms would make it harder to consistently engage in social distancing or other behaviors that reduce the likelihood of being exposed to SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
For example, social distancing requires us to constantly pay attention to the world around us in order to maintain a safe distance from others. When washing our hands for a full 20 seconds, we have to resist the impulse to stop because we are bored and want to move on to the next thing. Staying home and tolerating some level of boredom requires us to resist the impulse to spend time in close contact with friends and find new ways to boost our mood and regulate our emotions. Kids and teens with ADHD also have to follow directions from adults in each of these areas, even when they don’t fully comprehend why these social distancing and public health measures are in place.
Across the country and across the globe, families affected by ADHD are struggling during the pandemic. Parents are feeling stressed and burned out from conflicts with their children and teens as they try repeatedly to get them to follow important social distancing and health measures. Kids and teens with ADHD are struggling without the typical routine and structure that school and summer camps provide and are sorely missing time spent socializing with friends. The findings from this newly published study are a reminder that ADHD symptoms can make so many things in life more challenging.
As a parent of a child or teen with ADHD, it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to deal with these challenges alone. Even if your child is not attending school in person this fall, it is still important to get help from your child’s doctor, psychiatrist, and/or therapist to optimize their ADHD treatment while they are spending time at home. Support from parents dealing with similar challenges can also go a long way in managing your own stress. Reach out to your local chapter of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) to learn about virtual support groups in your area and across the country. With the right combination of support your stress level will decrease, and you’ll be better prepared to handle the challenges that come your way during these difficult times.
1Merzon, E., Manor, I., Rotem, A., Schneider, T., Vinker, S., Golan Cohen, A., … Green, I. (2020). ADHD as a Risk Factor for Infection With Covid-19. Journal of Attention Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054720943271
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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