According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 68 American children was found to be suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2014. ASD, a group of developmental disorders, causes a range of intellectual and cognitive disabilities, such as communication problem, repetitive behaviors, etc.
Studies have found autism largely a birth disorder. Among some of the reasons, pregnancy at a relatively older age plays a significant role in causing autism in children. A recent study, “Opposite differential risks for autism and schizophrenia based on maternal age, paternal age, and parental age differences,” published in 2016 in Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, came up with the findings corroborating the risk of developing autism in children born to older parents.
The above study also underlined the incompatibility between modern reproductive patterns and the natural patterns as possibly the reason behind the recent surge in mental disease risks to children.
The finding is in line with an earlier study – “Advanced parental age and the risk of autism spectrum disorder,” conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in 2008, which revealed, “Firstborn offspring of 2 older parents were 3 times more likely to develop autism than were third- or later-born offspring of mothers aged 20-34 years and fathers aged <40 years.”
Advancing parental age increases risk of autism
According to another recent study, “Autism risk associated with parental age and with increasing difference in age between the parents,” advancing parental and maternal ages are independently associated with risk for ASD in the offspring.
The above study also suggested that children get heavily impacted by the joint effect of both maternal and paternal ages, thereby significantly increasing the risk of autism. Due to the limited information on the combined effect of maternal and paternal ages till now, largely considered independent risk factors, more studies need to be conducted. It also highlighted that the risk is higher among disparately aged parents.
These studies have also suggested that the risk of ASD gets magnified in the children of very old fathers or mothers. While the risk is higher in case of older fathers due to the age-related build-up of gene mutations in sperm-producing cells, it increases in older mothers, who is a larger contributor to the risk, due to the changes in the mechanisms controlling gene activities in the developing brain.
No link between advanced parental age and schizophrenia
Unlike autism, the risk of the mental disorder schizophrenia, which affects one’s thinking, feelings, behavior, rationality and even the memory, has not been associated with advanced maternal and paternal ages. However, dissimilarly aged parents enhance the risk of schizophrenia, as seen in case of autism.
Besides genetics (heredity), biology (abnormalities in the brain’s chemistry or structure), and/or viral infections and immune disorders, the study conducted by the NCBI confirmed that only the children of very young mothers had the increased risks of schizophrenia.
Better to be safe than sorry
Pregnancy is a crucial decision and the above studies prove that the age of the parents plays an essential role in determining the health of the offspring. Hence, it is important to have a detailed medical consultation whenever one plans to conceive and raise a family, as only then the risk can be eliminated and chances of birth of a healthy child can be increased.
One should also be aware of the mental conditions, such as autism and schizophrenia, to identify them in children. It should be noted that like schizophrenia, autism also cannot be completely treated. However, proper and timely diagnosis, coupled with the right treatment approach, can greatly reduce the effects of such serious disorders.
In case you know someone who is suffering from autism, schizophrenia or any other mental condition, consult Sovereign Health to avail the best mental health programs in California and other parts of the U.S. We specialize in treatment of various underlying mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, depression, etc., using innovative methods. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-973-7164 or chat online for information on our mental health centers in California and other states.