Thursday, February 27th, 2014
Mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may be more common in children born to fathers who are “middle aged,” or age 45 and older, according to new research conducted in Sweden. The New York Times has more:
In recent years, scientists have debated based on mixed evidence whether a father’s age is linked to his child’s vulnerability to individual disorders like autism and schizophrenia. Some studies have found strong associations, while others have found weak associations or none at all.
The new report, which looked at many mental disorders in Sweden, should inflame the debate, if not settle it, experts said. Men have a biological clock of sorts because of random mutations in sperm over time, the report suggests, and the risks associated with later fatherhood may be higher than previously thought. The findings were published on Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
“This is the best paper I’ve seen on this topic, and it suggests several lines of inquiry into mental illness,” said Dr. Patrick F. Sullivan, a professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina, who was not involved in the research. “But the last thing people should do is read this and say, ‘Oh no, I had a kid at 43, the kid’s doomed.’ The vast majority of kids born to older dads will be just fine.”
Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, a professor of psychiatry and human molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, also urged caution in interpreting the results. “This is great work from a scientific perspective,” he said. “But it needs to be replicated, and biomedical science needs to get in gear and figure out what accounts for” the mixed findings of previous studies.
The strengths of the new report are size and rigor. The research team, led by Brian M. D’Onofrio of Indiana University, analyzed medical and public records of some 2.6 million people born in Sweden from 1973 to 2001. Like many European countries, Sweden has centralized medical care and keeps detailed records, so the scientists knew the father’s age for each birth and were able to track each child’s medical history over time, as well as that of siblings and other relatives. Among other things, the analysis compared the mental health of siblings born to the same father and found a clear pattern of increased risk with increasing paternal age.
Compared with the children of young fathers, aged 20 to 24, those born to men age 45 and older had about twice the risk of developing psychosis, the signature symptom of schizophrenia; more than three times the likelihood of receiving a diagnosis of autism; and about 13 times the chance of having a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. Children born to older fathers also tended to struggle more with academics and substance abuse.
The researchers controlled for every factor they could think of, including parents’ education and income. Older couples tend to be more stable and have more income — both protective factors that help to temper mental problems — and this was the case in the study. But much of the risk associated with paternal age remained.
“We spent months trying to make the findings go away, looking at the mother’s age, at psychiatric history, doing sub-analyses,” Dr. D’Onofrio said. “They wouldn’t go away.”
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Image: Older dad, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, March 5th, 2013
Children who are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may encounter aftereffects of the disorder into adulthood, according to a new study published in the study Pediatrics. The effects include social issues like marital problems, or emotional disorders liek depression. CNN has more:
A new study published in this week’s Pediatrics journal finds that about a third of those diagnosed as children continue to have ADHD as adults, and more than half of those adults have another psychiatric disorder as well.
Suicide rates were nearly five times higher in adults who had childhood ADHD compared to those who did not, according to the study. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why; they speculate that problems associated with childhood ADHD, such as lower academic achievement and social isolation, make people more prone to life issues as adults.
The study looked at roughly 230 people born between 1976 and 1982 who were diagnosed with ADHD as children. The group was followed until they were about 30 years old.
Researchers think the higher rates of suicide and psychiatric illness in those with childhood ADHD are tied to depression and impulsive behavior.
Living with ADHD can be challenging. The disorder often makes it more difficult for school children to pay attention in class. They may be more fidgety, hyperactive, and often act before they think things through, experts say. Their grades can suffer, and they tend to have trouble getting along with their peers.
As they grow up, people with ADHD are may be underemployed and are more inclined to have problems and accidents on the job, says Dr. Russell Barkley, clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Image: ADHD graphic, via Shutterstock
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Friday, March 1st, 2013
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may share genetic codes with mental illnesses including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia, according to new research published this week in the journal The Lancet. The New York Times has more:
[The study] was based on an examination of genetic data from more than 60,000 people world-wide. Its authors say it is the largest genetic study yet of psychiatric disorders. The findings strengthen an emerging view of mental illness that aims to make diagnoses based on the genetic aberrations underlying diseases instead of on the disease symptoms.
Two of the aberrations discovered in the new study were in genes used in a major signaling system in the brain, giving clues to processes that might go awry and suggestions of how to treat the diseases.
“What we identified here is probably just the tip of an iceberg,” said Dr. Jordan Smoller, lead author of the paper and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “As these studies grow we expect to find additional genes that might overlap.”
The new study does not mean that the genetics of psychiatric disorders are simple. Researchers say there seem to be hundreds of genes involved and the gene variations discovered in the new study only confer a small risk of psychiatric disease.
Steven McCarroll, director of genetics for the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T., said it was significant that the researchers had found common genetic factors that pointed to a specific signaling system.
“It is very important that these were not just random hits on the dartboard of the genome,” said Dr. McCarroll, who was not involved in the new study.
Image: Genetic markers, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, September 5th, 2012
The editor of a prestigious Canadian medical journal has called for lawmakers in Canada to strike down a statute that protects spanking as a legal form of physical punishment that parents and teachers can apply to kids, The Globe and Mail reports. Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada states that a parent can use physical punishment “if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.”
“It is time for Canada to remove this anachronistic excuse for poor parenting from the statute book,” editor John Fletcher wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. But Fletcher also said an occasional spanking shouldn’t be treated like a criminal act. From The Globe and Mail:
“If the aim is to improve parenting,” he writes, “then calling the police is the wrong approach.”
Instead, he’s hoping to shift the focus to how ineffective spanking actually is.
“I’m not sure the message has got out that regular physical punishment isn’t a good way to get kids to behave properly and can lead to later problems,” he said in an interview. He defines regular physical punishment as more than two incidents a month.
This follows two recent studies that connected spanking to problems in children. One study, published this summer by the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that physical punishments, such slapping, hitting, pushing and shoving, were linked to mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse in the children who were punished.
Image: Parents with son in trouble via Shutterstock.
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Monday, June 4th, 2012
A study published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry has found that premature babies who are born at fewer than 32 weeks of gestation have a higher risk of suffering from mental illnesses later in life, including psychosis, bipolar disorder, and depression. From Reuters:
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Scientists in Britain and Sweden found that people born very prematurely – at less than 32 weeks’ gestation – were three times more likely than those born at term to be hospitalized with a psychiatric illness at aged 16 and older.
The researchers think the increased risk may be down to small but important differences in brain development in babies born before the a full 40 week gestation period.
The risk varied depending on the condition – psychosis was 2.5 times more likely for premature babies, severe depression 3 times more likely, and bipolar disorder 7.4 times more likely for those born before 32 weeks.
The study, to be published in the Archives of General Psychiatry journal, also found smaller but significant increased psychiatric risks for babies born only moderately early, at between 32 and 36 weeks.