The study is published in the September 19, 2012, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Emotional neglect is defined as failing to provide for a child’s needs emotionally. “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,” said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
For the study, 1,040 participants who were 55 years of age or older took a survey measuring physical and emotional abuse before the age of 18. Questions focused on whether the participant 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 which 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. The results stayed the same after considering factors such as diabetes, physical activity, smoking, anxiety and heart problems.
“The results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that traumatic childhood experiences and physical illness in adulthood may be linked,” said Kevin Barrett, MD, MSc, with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, who wrote an editorial on the research.
Wilson noted that a limitation of the study is that neglect was reported from memory many years after occurrence, so participants may not have remembered events accurately.
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
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The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 25,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit http://www.aan.com