Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Mothers who have specific fears and anxieties may inadvertently pass them along to their days-old newborns through an unlikely method–smell. A new study published in the journal Proceedings National Academy of Sciences tested the role of smell in fear transfer by exposing rats to mild shocks while they were in an environment scented with peppermint oil. Later, the same rats gave birth, and the pups’ fear responses were tested, measuring the activity of the part of the brain called the amygdala, when they were exposed to the same scent. The pups, the study found, showed a fear reaction at the mere whiff of peppermint.
Newsweek has more:
“It was really surprising to us that…it could be so early and could be so lasting,” said [psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and lead researcher Jacek] Debiec, pointing out that infants generally do not form lasting memories unless experiences are repeated during the first few days of life, a concept called infantile amnesia. “Here it was a single exposure and it was enough for these newborn pups to create lasting memories,” added Debiec.
When researchers gave pups a substance that blocked activity in the amygdala, according to the study, the baby rats did not learn the fear of peppermint smell from their mothers. This could help mental health experts find ways to prevent children from learning certain fear responses from their mothers.
“Infants can learn from their mothers about potential environmental threats before their sensory and motor development allows them a comprehensive exploration of the surrounding environment,” says the six-page study.
Some mother rats tried to plug the tubing so that the smell wouldn’t come through, a behavior that Debiec found interesting and wants to study further.
Image: Boy smells something bad, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, June 5th, 2014
Children whose parents are seriously injured face an elevated risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) even if they themselves were not injured, according to new research conducted in Seattle. The new study is reportedly the first to examine the effect of parents’ injuries on children in settings other than war zones. More from Reuters:
Researchers studied 175 pairs of parents and school-age children seen at a Seattle trauma center. They found that uninjured children whose parents were seriously hurt were twice as likely to experience PTSD symptoms months later as those whose parents were uninjured.
“If the parent is injured, the child is more likely to have more anxiety in five months,” psychiatrist Dr. Douglas Zatzick told Reuters Health. “We hope to incorporate psychological support services that allow us to anticipate the difficulties that families face in the wake of injury.”
Motor vehicle crashes were the primary cause of injury when both the parent and child were seriously hurt. Other injuries were caused by burns or falls, for instance.
About 20 percent of uninjured children whose parents were injured reported symptoms of PTSD five months later, compared to 10 percent of uninjured children whose parents were also unhurt, according to findings published in Pediatrics. The difference shrunk after a year.
Zatzick and his colleagues at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle also found that injured children tended to recover more slowly physically and emotionally if their parents were also injured than children whose parents were not seriously hurt.
Image: Woman in hospital bed, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
Parents whose children face serious or life-threatening illnesses are likely to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, including anxiety and depression. These symptoms may, in effect, extend the traumatic effect the illness has on the whole family because it affects how parents treat siblings, their spouses, and other relatives. More on a new study about post-traumatic stress in kids and adults after a child’s injury from The New York Times:
Researchers who study parental stress tend to reach for the oxygen-mask metaphor: if you don’t breathe yourself, you aren’t going to be able to take care of your child.
“Parents need to feel well enough that they can then be there for their child, their other children,” said Nancy Kassam-Adams, a psychologist who is the director of the Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The hardest thing is self-care.”
Dr. Kassam-Adams is the lead author of a new review of post-traumatic stress in both children and parents after the children were injured, which concludes that about one in every six children, and a similar percentage of parents, experience significant, persistent symptoms. They may have intrusive and distressing memories and dreams, or continue to avoid people or places that evoke the circumstances of the injury, or struggle with mood problems, including depression. If untreated, this can damage the child’s emotional and physical recovery.
Research into the effects of parental stress developed as pediatric cancer treatment claimed more and more success stories, medical victories that gave children their lives back. Clinicians and social workers — and parents themselves — began asking questions about how to help families continue on with those triumphantly recovered childhoods.
It helped, in part, to tell parents that they’d been enlisted in a war, said Anne E. Kazak, a pediatric psychologist and co-director of the Center for Healthcare Delivery Science at Nemours Pediatric Health System in Wilmington, Del. Parents connected to this metaphor: “You’ve been part of the war on cancer, the battle fighting it,” she said.
Some of the strategies and insights gained from this body of research are already visible in most children’s hospitals: a place for parents to sleep, even in the intensive care unit; including parents in so-called family-centered rounds; a staff attuned to interpret a parent’s extreme behavior as a cry for help, rather than a source of irritation and extra work.
But what happens after children are out of the medical danger zone? Many parents continue to experience the physical symptoms of stress — the racing pulse, the dry mouth. They continue to flash back to the moment of the cancer diagnosis, the moment of the very premature birth, the moment of the accident.
“It’s my belief a parent who’s traumatized is always expecting the other shoe to drop, will always be scanning the horizon,” said Dr. Richard J. Shaw, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford.
Image: Mother holding infant’s hand, via Shutterstock
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Monday, September 30th, 2013
Up to a quarter of US kids may meet the criteria for a diagnosable anxiety disorder, according to new data from the National Institutes of Mental Health. Psychologist Lawrence J. Cohen, writing for Time.com, describes the situation:
Nowadays, there are still 10-20% with that reactive temperament, but the number of children with a diagnosable anxiety disorder has skyrocketed, up to 25% according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A report from the National Institutes of Health adds, “There is persuasive evidence from a range of studies that anxiety disorders are the most frequent mental disorders in children and adolescents….” These new numbers must be viewed skeptically, of course, because of the trend towards looser and broader definitions of mental illness. Many commentators have linked this trend to the influence of pharmaceutical companies on diagnosis and prescription patterns.
Despite these caveats, however, I believe that childhood anxiety is indeed on the rise at every level, from fears of monsters under the bed to phobias and panic attacks to severe anxiety disorders.
Last year I gave a lecture on childhood anxiety to parents at a public elementary school. I heard about children who couldn’t be in a different room from their parents, even to use the bathroom, children who were too afraid of the water to swim or even take a shower, and children who were too afraid of making a mistake to function well in the classroom.
Of course, these were parents who chose to attend a lecture on childhood anxiety, but many teachers have told me that they now have a number of highly anxious children in every class. What struck me most in this group was that none of these children was in therapy, and none had received an “official” diagnosis of an anxiety disorder (though I did give out a few business cards).
Image: Worried child, via Shutterstock
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Friday, September 20th, 2013
A genetic disorder that can lead to developmental delays, anxiety, and social awkwardness is misdiagnosed as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as much as 50 percent of the time, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California Davis. The mistake can lead to inappropriate treatment for the children, and may even worsen the symptoms of their genetic condition. More from Time.com:
About one in 2000 people are diagnosed with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, which can lead to developmental delays, social awkwardness and anxiety, among other symptoms. Because those symptoms overlap with some of the hallmark signs of autism, researchers say that anywhere from 20% to 50% of children with 22q, as the condition is called, are misdiagnosed with autism.
That can have serious implications for these patients, since behavior-based treatments designed to alleviate the social deficits of autism may actually exacerbate anxiety among those with the 22q genetic disorder. If left untreated, children with 22q can be at higher risk of developing other mental health disorders like schizophrenia later in life.
To tease apart the differences between children with 22q and those with autism, the researchers, based at the University of California Davis MIND Institute, recruited a small group of 29 kids from a website the study called Cognitive Analysis and Brain Imaging Laboratory (CABIL). The scientists noticed that parents of children with the genetic disorder often commented that while their kids were diagnosed with autism, they seemed different from other children with the developmental disorder. “It’s quite clear that children with the [22q] disorder do have social impairments,” said study author Tony J. Simon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the MIND Institute in a statement. “But it did seem to us that they did not have a classic case of autism spectrum disorder. They often have very high levels of social motivation. They get a lot of pleasure from social interaction, and they’re quite socially skilled.”
So the team gave the children two of the gold standard tests for diagnosing autism — the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) — to see if they indeed showed signs of autism.
Only five of the children had elevated scores on the ADOS test, and four out of the five had anxiety. None of the 22q children had scores high enough in both tests to classify them as having autism.
Image: Child with pediatrician, via Shutterstock
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