Children with low attention and poor memory are more likely to develop mental illness, including depression and psychosis, in adulthood, study warns
- Experts studied data from a cohort of more than 13,000 people born in 1991 and 1992
- They looked for links between childhood cognitive problems and mental health
- Those with a poor attention span at age eight developed depression from the age of 18
- Knowing these markers in childhood could help address mental health issues later on
Children who struggle with memory problems and have a poor attention span are more likely to develop mental illness as they mature, research shows.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham analyzed data from a cohort of 13,988 individuals born in 1991 and 1992 and re-examined over decades.
They looked for links between childhood cognitive problems, such as lack of control and memory problems, and mental health problems later in life.
They found that a poor attention span in eight-year-olds could lead to depression at age 18, and that memory problems at age 10 could lead to hypomania by age 22.
Targeting specific markers in childhood for early treatment can help reduce the risk of developing certain psychopathological problems later in life. the team said.
Children who struggle with memory problems and have a poor attention span are more likely to develop mental illness as they mature, research shows. Stock image
WHAT IS ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral condition determined by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
It affects about five percent of children in the US. About 3.6 percent of boys and 0.85 percent of girls suffer in the UK.
Symptoms usually appear at a young age and become more noticeable as a child grows. These can also be:
- Constant fidgeting
- Bad concentration
- Excessive movement or talking
- Act without thinking
- Little or no sense of danger
- Careless mistakes
- Difficulty organizing tasks
- Inability to listen or follow instructions
Most cases are diagnosed between the ages of six and 12. Adults can suffer too, but there is less research on that.
The exact cause of ADHD is unclear, but it is believed to involve genetic mutations that affect a person’s brain function and structure.
Premature babies and people with epilepsy or brain damage are more at risk.
ADHD has also been linked to anxiety, depression, insomnia, Tourette’s and epilepsy.
There is no cure.
A combination of medication and therapy is usually recommended to relieve symptoms and make everyday life easier.
Source: NHS choices
This includes conditions such as borderline personality disorder, depression and psychosis that can occur in people 17 or 18 years old.
According to lead author Dr. Isabel Morales-Munoz, cognitive deficits are the core features of mental disorders and important in predicting long-term prognosis.
The work of this new study appears to show that individual patterns of these deficits, such as a short attention span, predate some mental disorders.
Morales-Muñoz said, “Prevention strategies aimed at alleviating these specific cognitive problems could reduce the likelihood of such children developing associated mental health problems during adolescence and early adulthood.”
The study was the first to investigate specific links between childhood cognitive impairment and psychopathological problems in young people over a period of time.
Deficits in sustained attention at eight years associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms at 11-12 years of age are consistent with similar deficits in adult BPD patients associated with difficulties in adhering to therapy programs.
Previous evidence also suggests a significant association between BPD in adults and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children.
This indicates that ADHD could be a risk factor for BPD, the team explained.
The study also supports the theory that a lack of inhibition in childhood precedes later psychotic experiences, with a lack of inhibitory control often occurring in psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.
Mental disorders worldwide cause a significant burden of disease and at least 10% of children and adolescents worldwide have a mental disorder.
The team said 75% of the mental health disorders diagnosed in adults originate in childhood and adolescence.
Bipolar disorder, depression, and psychosis are common during adolescence and continue into young adulthood – possibly related to anomalies in the way adolescents mature, caused by psychosocial, biological, or environmental factors.
“It is crucial to study the onset of mental disorders at these early stages and evaluate which risk factors predate these conditions,” said study co-author Matthew Broome.
“These factors are core characteristics of mental disorders such as psychosis and mood disorders,” he explained.
They looked for links between childhood cognitive problems, such as lack of control and memory problems, and mental health problems later in life. Stock image
“Deficits in cognitive functions, ranging from impaired attention and working memory to disrupted social cognition and language, are common in psychiatric disorders,” added the study’s senior author Professor Steven Marwaha.
“They seriously endanger quality of life and can potentially be years older than serious mental illness.”
The findings are published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
DEPRESSION AFFECTS ONE IN TEN ON ONE POINT
While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression can feel persistent unhappiness for weeks or months.
Depression can affect anyone at any age and is quite common – about one in ten people is likely to experience it at some point in their lifetime.
Depression is a real health condition that people cannot just ignore or ‘get out’.
Symptoms and effects vary, but may include feeling constantly upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.
It can also cause physical symptoms such as sleep problems, fatigue, a low appetite or sex drive, and even physical pain.
In extreme cases, it can lead to thoughts of suicide.
Traumatic events can cause it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.
It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know is suffering from depression as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication.
Source: NHS Choices