Traumatic Brain Injury Linked to ADHD Diagnosis in Adults

TBI may cause neuro-psychological changes resulting in an ADHD diagnosis.

A history of traumatic brain injury (TBI) may be linked to current or past attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis in adults, echoing recent findings in pediatric patients.

The study results, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, suggest that TBI may lead to neuro-psychological changes that facilitate ADHD, and that people with ADHD may be more prone to falls or accidents resulting in TBI.

Gabriela Ilie, PhD, of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and colleagues surveyed 3,993 adults 18 years and older in a telephone survey to assess history of TBI and ADHD. TBI was described as any injury to the head resulting in a loss of consciousness for at least five minutes or an overnight hospitalization, and ADHD was measured by self-reported history or the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS).

Among participants with a history of TBI, 5.9% also reported being diagnosed with ADHD in their lifetimes, and 6.6% screened positive for ADHD when the ASRS was administered during the phone survey. Adults with a history of TBI were nearly twice as likely to score positive for ADHD (OR=2.49, 95% CI: 1.54, 4.04), and were significantly more likely to report a history of ADHD diagnosis (OR=2.64, 95% CI: 1.40, 4.98) than participants without TBI.

“This is not be surprising because some of the most persistent consequences of TBI include ADHD-like symptoms, such as memory and attention impairment, deficits in executive functions such as planning and organization, processing consonants and vowels, and impulsive behavior,” Ilie said.

The results of the study indicate that it may be useful to screen people for a history of TBI when assessing ADHD diagnosis, and vice versa. However, more research needs to be done to better understand the association between TBI and ADHD, and the significance of that association on etiology and condition management. 


  1. Ilie G et al. J Psych Res. 2015; doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.08.004.