Bipolar Disorder Risk Higher in Children of Older Fathers


Mothers who wait to bear children until later in life are often blamed for putting their child at risk for disabilities.  However, a recent study is about to change all of that, making older fathers responsible for any mental health diagnoses that their child receives.  This study shows that children of older fathers are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, among other diagnoses.

Findings and procedures of a recent study have been published in JAMA Psychiatry detailing why and how older fathers put their children’s mental health at risk.  The study, which involved data collection and analysis of over 2 million Swedish children and their fathers identified the risks that men take when they have children at an older age.  The researchers gathered data on over 2 million children born in Sweden between 1973 and 2001, including any recorded mental illness diagnoses, learning disabilities and hyperactivity disorders, among other health and well-being related details.  The age of the father was also recorded, an important piece of evidence needed for the study.

After careful data analysis it was found that fathers who waited to have children until age 45 had a very high risk of producing offspring with mental health issues, as well as learning disabilities.  In comparison to a father who had a child at age 24, fathers who had children at age 45 or older were 25 times more likely to have children with bipolar disorder.  Children were also 13 times more likely to have ADHD, 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with Autism and 2.5 times more prone to have problems with substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.  The children are also at a much higher risk for Schizophrenia, low IQ scores and poor grades in school.  It was found in this study that the likelihood of these diagnoses increased as the father progressed in age.

This study, which was heavily inclusive, went to great lengths to ensure the validity of the data accrued.  The researchers took into account several other variables which could lead to a devastating diagnosis in a child, including the father’s income and education.  These variables had little to no effect on the child, simply the father’s age.

The study also took into account other children that the father in question had earlier and whether or not they exhibited any of the medical or mental diagnoses of their younger siblings.  The results demonstrated that the youngest siblings, or the children who were born when their father was 45 years old or older had a higher prevalence of negative diagnoses than their older siblings, due to the father’s age.

The reasons for the children’s high risk of bipolar disorder and other negative diagnoses all comes down to age.  A man in his reproductive years continuously produces sperm, but as he progresses in age there is a higher risk for the sperm to not develop fully or for the sperm produced to have some form of genetic mutations which would lead to medical problems in the child.  Another reason that a father’s age may impact his children’s health is his exposure over time to environmental toxins, which could be carried along in the DNA in the father’s sperm.

While the evidence from this study is highly suggestive that children of older fathers are at a higher risk for bipolar disorder and other negative diagnoses, scientists claim more research is needed to make definitive conclusions.

By Allison Longstreet


CBS News
Science World Report

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