Childhood cognitive problems could lead to mental health issues in later life — ScienceDaily

A new study shows that cognitive problems in children such as poor attention, memory loss, and lack of inhibition can lead to mental health problems later on as teenagers or young adults. Children with certain cognitive problems may be at risk of developing psychopathological issues in adulthood. Early treatment can help reduce this risk, such as borderline personality disorder and depression.

Cognitive deficits are a core feature of mental disorders and can be used to predict long-term prognosis. However, the research shows that individual patterns of these deficits predate specific mental conditions.

Researchers discovered key links between cognitive problems in childhood and later-life mental health problems by analysing data from a UK cohort of 13,988 people born between April 1991 & December 1992.

  • A lack of sustained attention in eight year-olds precedes the development borderline personality disorder, or BPD, symptoms at 11-12 years old and depression at 17-18.
  • Eight-year-olds who had trouble with inhibition were more likely to have experienced psychotic experiences at the age of 17-18.
  • Hypomania at 22-23 years was associated with working memory deficits in 10-year-olds.

The findings of an international team of researchers representing the UK and Finland, headed by experts from University of Birmingham, have been published today JAMA Network Open.

The leading author of the study Dr. Isabel Morales-Muñoz, from the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Mental Health and the Finnish Institute for Mental Health, in Helsinki, commented: “Our study highlights the potential impact of childhood cognitive deficits on young people’s mental health, suggesting specific associations with certain conditions. These cognitive issues can be addressed with prevention strategies that reduce the risk of children developing mental health problems in their adolescence or early adulthood.

This was the first study to follow subjects over a significant time period to examine specific associations between cognitive deficits in childhood, and various psychopathological issues in youth.

BPD symptoms at 11-12 are often associated with deficits in sustained attention at age eight. This is consistent in the same way that adult BPD patients experience similar deficits, such as difficulties sticking to therapy programs. There is evidence that there is a strong link between adult BPD symptoms and childhood Attention Deficit hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This suggests that ADHD could be a risk factor in BPD.

The study supports the idea that early psychotic experiences are preceded by lack of inhibition. In addition, there is a lack in inhibitory control in schizophrenia.

Researchers found that hypomania in young people was associated with working memory problems in childhood. However when they checked for other psychopathological conditions, the association disappeared. This suggests that further investigation is required.

Globally, mental disorders are a major cause of disease. At least 10% of all children and adolescents have a mental disorder. 75% of mental illnesses diagnosed in adults occur in childhood and adolescence.

Bipolar disorder, depression, and psychosis are common during adolescence. These disorders can continue into young adulthood and could be related to anomalies in the maturing process of adolescents due to psychosocial, biological, and environmental factors.

“It’s important to study the onset mental disorders at an early stage and determine which risk factors precede these conditions. These are the core features of mental disorders, such as psychosis (and mood disorders),” commented Professor Matthew Broome.

“Deficits of cognitive function, which can range from decreased attention and working memories to disrupted social cognition or language, are common in psychiatric conditions. They can seriously compromise quality of living and could potentially predate serious mental illnesses by several years,” stated Professor Steven Marwaha, senior author of the study.

Longitudinal Associations between Cognitive deficits in childhood and psychopathology in adolescence and young adulthood’ — Isabel Morales-Muñoz, Rachel Upthegrove, Pavan K Mallikarjun, Matthew R Broome and Steven Marwaha is published in JAMA Network Open.


Materials provided by University of Birmingham. Note: Content may be edited to improve style and length.

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