According to a Denmark study which tracked over 2 million children born between 1955 and 1992, there exists a link between a first-time father’s age and his child’s chance of being diagnosed with schizophrenia. The findings, which were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that the older a first-time father is, the more likely it is that his child will develop schizophrenia.
Researchers have long known that the disease is caused by “disrupted brain development” and believe that it likely spawns from a combination environmental factors, such as poor nutrition during pregnancy, and genetic ones. Studies such as the Denmark one attempt to shed more light on the disorder.
As an older, first-time dad (my triplets were born weeks before I turned 39), I must say — I found the numbers to be staggering.
The first children born to fathers who were between the ages of 25 and 29 stood a .5% chance of being schizophrenic, as compared to the overall rate of 1%. That chance went up to .7% for the first children born to men in their 30s, 1.2% to men in their 40s, and 2% to men in their 50s.
Perhaps, researchers have speculated, older dads are more likely to have genetic abnormalities in their sperm. However, according to Dr. Liselotte Peterson, these new findings cast doubt on that. The Aarhus University professor points out that if such were the case, then each of an older dad’s children would be at risk as opposed to only his first child.
Instead, Peterson and her colleagues have another theory to help explain the phenomenon. In an email to Reuters Health, Peterson speculates that perhaps men who have a predisposition to schizophrenia, yet do not have the disorder, tend to have children later in life. That, of course, leads to the following question. Why do these men tend to have children later in life?
One possibility offered by Peterson is that they may have personality traits which makes it more difficult for them to find a partner. (Wonder if they had a bunch of older sisters?) Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but that struck me as a bit harsh.
Not to mention the fact that I don’t follow the professor’s entire thread of logic on this one. It seems to me that Dr. Peterson’s “unlucky in love” theory has the exact same hole as the theory she claims the new study shot down. It doesn’t account for why there is NOT an increased rate of schizophrenia with second children.
Still, the numbers are sobering. And thanks to them, as well as to the entire study, I’ll likely over overanalyze each and every meltdown my triplets go on to have. (Not to mention my own.)
Photo — MorgueFile
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