Children neglected before the age of 18 have a higher risk of suffering a stroke in adulthood, according to new research.
Earlier research has found a link between childhood abuse and later mental illness. Neglect, or the lack of a warm and responsive caregiver, has also been shown to cause changes in the brain's grey and white matter. Bullying, abuse and other exposure to violence are also known to accelerate biological aging in kids.
The new study, however, is the first to look for a link between neglect and stroke, study researcher Robert Wilson, a professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a statement.
Wilson and his colleagues surveyed 1,040 participants ages 55 or older about their experiences before age 18. The volunteers were asked if they felt loved by their caregiver, if they ever felt afraid or intimidated by their caregiver or had ever been punished by a belt or other object, a measure of physical abuse. They were also asked about parental divorce and financial need in childhood.
Over the next three-and-a-half years, 257 of the survey respondents died, with pathologists completing autopsies for 192 of these individuals in order to look for stroke. Eighty-nine people had evidence of a stroke in an autopsy, and another 40 had a diagnosis of stroke in their medical history.
The results, published online Sept. 19 in the journal Neurology, revealed that strokes were three times more common in people who reported a moderately high level of childhood neglect than people who reported a moderately low level. The results held after controlling for diabetes, physical activity, smoking, heart problems and anxiety.
"The results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that traumatic childhood experiences and physical illness in adulthood may be linked," Dr. Kevin Barrett of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., said in a statement. Barrett was not involved in the research but penned an editorial in Neurology about the work.