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Study Finds More Mental Health Issues in Children of Older Adults

Study Finds More Mental Health Issues in Children of Older Adults

The most comprehensive study to date of parental age and offspring mental health was published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study concluded that children born to middle-aged fathers have a higher risk for developing mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit disorder. In addition, the study also noticed an increase in substance abuse and academic struggle in the children of older fathers.  


The study was led by Dr. Brian M. D’Onofrio of Indiana University and examined the medical and public records of approximately 2.6 million people born in Sweden between the years of 1973 and 2001 (Carey, 2014). Sweden was chosen for the study because of its centralized health care and detailed medical records. Researchers tracked the father’s age at birth and the medical history of children, siblings, and other relatives. 


The results were shocking; children of men aged forty-five and older, when compared to children of men aged twenty to twenty-four, had twice the risk of developing psychosis, over three times the likelihood of having autism, and thirteen times the chance of having attention deficit disorder (Carey, 2014). Researchers attempted to control for issues such as parents’ education, mother’s age, psychiatric history, and income, but the results held. “We spent months trying to get the findings to go away,” said Dr. D’Onofrio (Carey, 2014). 


According to the researchers, the reason for these elevated risks lies in the sperm. According to New York Times writer Benedict Carey, the “researchers say that any increased risk due solely to parental age is most likely the result of the accumulation of genetic mutations in sperm cells” (2014). Men have to replenish their sperm cell supply and as men age, “the cell’s repeated reproductions lead to the accumulation of random errors over time” (Carey, 2014). 


While the results of this study may seem alarming, researchers and scientists urge readers not to panic. Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, a professor of psychiatry and human molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, stated that the study “is a great work from a scientific perspective, but it needs to be replicated.” In addition, Dr. Patrick D. Sullivan, a professor of genetics at the University of South Carolina, stated that “the last thing people should do is read this and say ‘Oh no, I had a kid at forty-three, the kid’s doomed.’ The vast majority of kids born to older men will be just fine” (Carey, 2014). 


Carey, B. (2014). Mental illness risk higher for children of older fathers, study finds. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/27/health/mental-illness-risk-higher-for-children-of-older-parents-study-finds.html