THURSDAY, Feb. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Preschoolers whose parents
report depression and intimate partner violence may be more likely
to develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by the
age of 6, new research suggests.
And young children with depressed moms may be more likely to
receive prescription drugs to treat behavioral and mental health
issues down the road.
"Our study indicates that preschoolers who are diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to have been exposed to both intimate partner violence and parental depression within the first three years of life than their peers not exposed to either risk factor," said study author Dr. Nerissa Bauer, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, in Indianapolis.
"There has been increasing awareness that certain psychosocial risk factors can impact the behavioral presentation of children at very young ages," she said. Still, not all children who are exposed to maternal depression and intimate partner violence will develop ADHD, she noted.
"There are other factors that can be associated with a child's higher likelihood of being diagnosed with ADHD, including a family history of ADHD," Bauer explained.
ADHD symptoms can include impulsiveness, hyperactivity and
difficulty focusing. Kids with ADHD may have difficulty in school,
holding down jobs and sustaining relationships. They are also at
greater risk for alcohol or substance abuse, depression and anxiety
disorders. Treatment typically involves medication and behavioral
"Pediatricians and family practitioners know to routinely screen for the presence of these psychosocial risk factors because of the potential negative effects on the child," Bauer said. "Families who experience intimate partner violence will need help, not only to make sure the victims stay safe from physical harm, but there [are] also psychological effects."
The study, which appeared online Feb. 4 in the journal
JAMA Pediatrics, included more than 2,400 children who were
3 years old. Parents who brought them to four different pediatric
community clinics filled out questionnaires regarding their
personal history of depression and domestic violence while in the
pediatricians' waiting room.
Fifty-eight caregivers reported a history of intimate partner
violence and depression before their child turned 3. In addition,
69 reported a history of intimate partner violence and 704 had
symptoms of depression during this time frame. Close to 66 percent
of the parents reported neither depression nor intimate partner
violence. Children who were exposed to intimate partner violence
and/or parental depression were four times more likely to be
diagnosed with ADHD by the age of 6.
What's more, 2.9 percent of kids whose parents reported
depression received prescription drugs to treat behavioral and
mental health issues, compared with 1.6 percent of children whose
parents did not report a history of depression. Medications
included those that treat anxiety, depression and sleep
While the study showed an association, it did not prove a
cause-and-effect link between intimate partner violence and/or
maternal depression and likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis.
Experts said the findings make sense, but more study is
"This study adds to the already robust literature revealing that early life experiences can have profound effects on brain development," said Dr. Michael Duchowny, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children's Hospital. "While heredity is known to play a strong role in the expression of ADHD symptoms, the study further suggests that additional environmental factors operating during the formative years of brain maturation are also significant."
New York City-based child psychoanalyst Dr. Leon Hoffman said
the new findings make sense. "Unquestionably, intimate partner
violence and maternal depression have a profound effect on
children," he said.
Exactly how to deal with this is another story, said Hoffman,
who is the co-director of the New York Psychoanalytic Society's
Pacella Parent Child Center. "This is a public health problem that
needs a lot of funds if reasonably effective programs are to be
developed," he noted.
Dr. Rachel Klein, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry
at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said the study
shows an association based on how parents answered certain
questions, but it can't say how, or even if, maternal depression
and intimate partner violence predict a child's risk of ADHD.
"If parents are worried, ask the pediatrician to evaluate your child for possible ADHD or refer the child to a mental health professional," she added.
Learn more about ADHD and its treatments at the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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