Facing adversity early in life can cause children’s brains to develop too fast, suggests a new study.
Researchers found that youngsters exposed to elevated levels of early life adversity (ELA) exhibit accelerated brain development during the preschool years which could negatively impact their health.
When exposed to ELA, such as a mother’s mental and physical health challenges during pregnancy, the child’s brain undergoes accelerated development in order to adapt to the adverse circumstances.
Such exposure can cause poor health outcomes such as cognitive impairment and the development of mental health disorders such as major depressive disorders.
To figure out the extent of the issue a team of researchers from A*STAR’s Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences conducted their study, scoring 549 children on a range of related factors.
The factors focused on exposures experienced before birth, encompassing the mother’s mental and physical health during pregnancy as well as the family’s structure and financial circumstances.
The team then used MRI scans to track brain development across childhood, measuring at ages 4.5, 6 and 7.5 years.
The study, published in the journal Nature Mental Health, found that exposure to high levels of ELA is linked to accelerated brain development between ages 4.5 and 6, which is likely a protective mechanism against adversity.
This can have negative implications in the long term as it results in a shorter window of adaptive learning and neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt and reorganize itself to learn, recover from injury, and adjust to new experiences.
Notably, results from this study pinpoint the period between ages 4.5 and 6 years as a potential window for early intervention to improve outcomes for children who were exposed to ELA.
Dr. Tan Ai Peng said: “Our study provided evidence that exposure to early-life challenges affects the pace of brain development across childhood.
“This, in turn, has significant effects on future cognitive and mental health outcomes.”
Dr. Peng added: “If we can develop screening tools to detect accelerated brain development, we will be able to implement interventions earlier, and prevent cascading consequences of accelerated brain development for mental health.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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