OBJECTIVES: Numerous studies showed that adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) suffer from impairments in a range of cognitive functions when compared to healthy controls. However, only little is known about the neuropsychological functions when compared to various clinical control groups and whether a distinct neuropsychological profile can be identified for adult ADHD.
METHOD: This retrospective study examined data of 199 outpatients referred for clinical evaluation of adult ADHD, allocated either to an ADHD group (n = 78) or to one of two clinical comparison groups, depending on whether they show indications (n = 71) or no indications (n = 50) for the presence of psychiatric disorders other than ADHD. All individuals performed a comprehensive neuropsychological test battery.
RESULTS: Data analysis revealed impairments in a range of cognitive functions in a substantial number of patients of all three groups. However, profiles of neuropsychological impairments were similar between groups. Furthermore, significant small- to medium-sized correlations between basic and higher-order cognitive functions were revealed in the ADHD group and the clinical comparison group with indications for psychiatric disorders other than ADHD.
CONCLUSION: Neuropsychological impairments are prominent in psychiatric outpatients seeking a clinical evaluation of adult ADHD but are not specific for ADHD. It is concluded that neuropsychological test performance may have limited incremental value to support the psychiatric differential diagnosis. Furthermore, a clinical trajectory may need to take into account that deficits in a range of higher-order cognitive functions can be substantially explained by deficits in basic cognitive functions.