Children who fall behind at school are more likely to suffer from psychotic disorders as adults, new research suggests today.
Having infants with normal IQ levels for their age, which then decrease when the children are as young as four years old, is associated with the development of conditions such as schizophrenia in later life, according to the first study of its kind.
Such individuals’ IQs then continue to decrease throughout their childhood, teenage years and early adulthood until they are 15 points lower than their healthy peers’, the research adds.
Study author Dr Josephine Mollon, who used to work at King’s College London, said: ‘For individuals with psychotic disorders, cognitive decline does not just begin in adulthood but rather many years prior and worsen over time.’
The researchers believe educational interventions could delay the onset of mental illness in at-risk youngsters.
Around one in 100 people in the UK experience an episode of schizophrenia at some point in their lives. The condition affects approximately 3.5 million people in the US.
Children who fall behind at school are more likely to suffer from psychotic disorders (stock)
DOES CANNABIS INCREASE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS?
Going from being an occasional marijuana user to indulging every day increases the risk of psychosis by up to 159 percent, research revealed in July 2017.
Marijuana is thought to cause psychosis-like experiences by increasing a user’s risk of depression, a study found. The two mental health conditions have previously been linked.
Frequently abusing the substance also significantly reduces a user’s ability to resist socially unacceptable behavior when provoked, the research adds.
Study author Josiane Bourque from the University of Montreal, said: ‘Our findings confirm that becoming a more regular marijuana user during adolescence is, indeed, associated with a risk of psychotic symptoms.
‘[Psychosis symptoms] may be infrequent and thus not problematic for the adolescent, when these experiences are reported continuously, year after year, then there’s an increased risk of a first psychotic episode or another psychiatric condition.’
The researchers, from the University of Montreal, analyzed around 4,000 13-year-olds from 31 high schools in the surrounding area.
Every year for four years, the study’s participants completed questionnaires about any substance abuse and psychotic experiences.
Psychotic symptoms included perceptual aberration – for example feeling that something external is part of their body – and thinking they have been unjustly badly treated.
The participants also completed cognitive tasks that allowed the researchers to assess their IQ, memory and stimuli response.
‘Cognitive decline does not just begin in adulthood’
Dr Mollon, who is now at Yale University, said: ‘For individuals with psychotic disorders, cognitive decline does not just begin in adulthood, when individuals start to experience symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, but rather many years prior, when difficulties with intellectual tasks first emerge, and worsen over time.’
Results further reveal children who develop psychotic disorders as adults also struggle with their cognitive abilities, including memory, understanding and attention.
The researchers tracked the IQ scores and cognitive abilities of 4,322 people based in the UK from 18 months to 20 years old.
‘Intervening in childhood may delay or prevent illness onset’
IQ scores fluctuate among healthy individuals, with the researchers stressing that not all children struggling at school are at risk of developing serious psychiatric disorders.
Study author Professor Abraham Reichenberg, from Mount Sinai Hospital, said: ‘It is important to bear in mind that many children will experience some difficulties with schoolwork or other intellectual tasks at some point in their lives, and only a small minority will go on to develop a psychotic disorder.’
Dr Reichenberg adds that early interventions to improve cognitive abilities may help to stave off psychotic symptoms from developing in later life.
He said: ‘Intervening in childhood or early adolescence may prevent cognitive abilities from worsening and this may even delay or prevent illness onset.’
The researchers are examining changes in the brains of younger people who go on to develop psychotic disorders, as well as potential environmental and genetic risk factors that may make individuals more susceptible.
The findings were published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.