Children who are emotionally neglected, or do not have their emotional needs met, may be at greater risk for stroke as adults, according to a new study.
The research, published in the journal Neurology, concluded that people who had a moderately high level of emotional neglect as children had a nearly three times greater risk for stroke than those who had moderately low levels of this type of neglect.
"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 Wilson, with Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago, in a journal news release.
How the study was done
The researchers surveyed more than 1,000 participants age 55 or older to assess the physical and emotional abuse they endured before they turned 18. Specifically, they were asked if they felt loved by their parent or caregiver. They also recalled whether or not they were made to feel afraid or intimidated or if they were ever punished with an object, such as a belt. The researchers also asked the participants about divorce and financial need.
Over three and a half years, 257 people involved in the study died. Of these people, 192 had a brain autopsy to determine if they had suffered a stroke. Autopsy results revealed signs of stroke in 89 cases. The researchers added that 40 participants had evidence of a stroke based on their medical history and a physical exam.
The link between childhood emotional neglect and later stroke risk held even after they considered other 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 D. Kevin Barrett, with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., author of an accompanying journal editorial.
However, while the research turned up an association between unmet emotional needs and later stroke risk, it does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship. The researchers noted the study was limited by the fact that participants had to rely on their recollection of childhood events.
Life after a stroke
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides more information on child abuse and emotional neglect.
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