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Health & Parenting

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Kids Born to Older Dads: Mental Health Risks?

Large Swedish study found higher rates of autism, ADHD and other disorders, but expert says the risk is small


In addition, children born to 45-year-old fathers were twice as likely to have a psychotic disorder, 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder and about 2.5 times more likely to have suicidal behavior or a drug abuse problem, the authors noted.

Over the past 40 years, the average age when men and women start a family has been increasing. In the United States, the average age for mothers having their first baby has gone up about four years, from 21.5 to 25.4 years old, the news release noted. For men the average increase is three years.

An expert not involved with the study said parents shouldn't overreact to the findings.

"There have been studies before that have shown an association between advanced parental age and developmental problems, particularly autism," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York.

"Parents need to remember that many of the conditions the researchers looked at are very uncommon, and even if you double the risk, the likelihood is you are not going to have a child affected with any of these conditions," he said.

Other studies have shown that women who are older when they first have children also run the risk of having kids with similar problems, such as autism, Adesman said.

Although the reasons for this risk are not known, Adesman said that when a female child is born she has all the eggs she will ever have and it's possible that older eggs are more prone to genetic changes as women delay childbirth. The same may also be true of the sperm that older men produce, he said.

"Age seems to have some adverse impact in terms of increasing the risk of children having developmental problems. But age is just one of many factors that couples need to consider when planning a family," Adesman said.

Although these problems were found to happen more often with older dads, there is no specific age when the risk starts to increase, the researchers noted.

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