Emotionally neglected children 'more likely to suffer strokes in old age'



20:00 GMT, 19 September 2012

How children are treated when they are young can affect their future health

How children are treated when they are young can affect their future health

People who were emotionally neglected as children are more likely to suffer a stroke as adults, according to a new study.

Researchers found people who felt ignored and unsupported when young had a higher risk of the brain-damaging condition in later life.

Study author Dr Robert Wilson, of Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, said: 'Studies have shown that children who were neglected emotionally in childhood are at an increased risk of a slew of psychiatric disorders, however, our study is one of few that look at an association between emotional neglect and stroke.'

For the study, 1,040 people 55 years of age or older took a survey measuring physical and emotional abuse before the age of 18. The questions focused on whether they felt loved by their caregiver, were made to feel afraid or intimidated and whether they were punished with a belt or other object. Questions about divorce and financial need were also included.

Over a period of three-and-a-half years, 257 people in the study died, of whom 192 had a brain autopsy to look for signs of stroke. Forty of the participants had evidence of a stroke based on their medical history or an examination. A total of 89 people had signs of a stroke based on the autopsy results.

The study found that the risk of stroke was nearly three times higher in those who reported a moderately high level of childhood emotional neglect than those who reported a moderately low level.

Dr Wilson said the results stayed the same after considering factors such as diabetes, physical activity, smoking, anxiety and heart problems.

However, he noted a limitation of the study was that neglect was reported from memory many years after it happened, so participants may not have remembered events accurately.

Dr Kevin Barrett, a member of the American Academy of Neurology who wrote an editorial on the research, said: “The results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that traumatic childhood experiences and physical illness in adulthood may be linked.”

The study was published in the online issue of the medical journal Neurology.