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Jeremiah Rivera
Jeremiah Rivera

Adverse Childhood Experiences: The Neuroscience...

Thanks to an explosion in scientific research now possible with imaging technologies, such as fMRI and SPECT, experts can actually see how the brain develops. This helps explain why exposure to adverse childhood experiences can so deeply influence and change a child's brain and thus their physical and emotional health and quality of life across their lifetime.

Adverse Childhood Experiences: The Neuroscience...

Previous research has found that people exposed to adverse childhood experiences are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases and have a shorter lifespan. The authors of the new study were interested in whether accelerated biological aging could help explain the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and poor health outcomes later in life.

The average age of the participants was 59, and most (63%) reported experiencing at least one adverse childhood experience. Participants who reported adverse childhood experiences tended to be biologically older than those who did not. In addition, the researchers found that the link between adverse childhood experiences and biological age was stronger for more severe forms of adversity, such as physical and sexual abuse.

But the researchers noted that nearly all of the observed effect-sizes were relatively small. Adverse childhood experiences were also associated with education level and smoking status, which in turn were related to biological age. The study authors said future research utilizing longitudinal data could help us better understand the factors linking adverse childhood experiences to biological age.

The study, Associations between exposure to adverse childhood experiences and biological aging: Evidence from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, was authored by Oxana Mian, Daniel W. Belsky, Alan A. Cohen, Laura N. Anderson, Andrea Gonzalez, Jinhui Ma, Deborah M. Slobod, Dawn ME Bowdishg, and Chris P. Verschoor.

The concept of adverse childhood experiences refers to various traumatic events or circumstances affecting children before the age of 18 and causing mental or physical harm.[4] There are 10 types of ACEs:

Inequalities in society impact the chances of experiencing ACEs. People with lower socioeconomic status and those growing up in disadvantaged areas or in poverty are more likely have adverse childhood experiences and they are also more likely to have more than one.[7]

With one in four children experiencing or witnessing a potentially traumatic event, the relationship between ACEs and poor health outcomes has been established for years.[8][9] With multiple adverse childhood experiences being equal to various stresses, and adversity.[clarification needed][10] Children who grow up in an unsafe environment are at risk for developing adverse health outcomes, affecting brain development, immune systems, and regulatory systems.[11][12][13] Adverse childhood experiences can alter the structural development of neural networks and the biochemistry of neuroendocrine systems[14][15][16][17] and may have long-term effects on the body, including speeding up the processes of disease and aging and compromising immune systems.[18][19][20] Further research on ACEs determined that children who experience ACEs are more likely than their similar-aged peers to experience challenges in their biological, emotional, social, and cognitive functioning.[21] Also, children who have experienced an ACE are at higher risk of being re-traumatized or suffering multiple ACEs.[22] The amount and types of ACEs can cause significant negative impacts and increase the risk of internalizing and externalizing in children.[23] Additionally behavioral challenges can arise in children who have been exposed to ACEs including juvenile recidivism,[24] reduced resiliency,[25] and lower academic performance.[26][27]

Mental health issues have been well known in the face of childhood trauma and exposure to ACEs is no different. According to a large study conducted in 21 countries nearly one in three mental health conditions in adulthood are directly related to an adverse childhood experience.[61]

Globally knowledge about the prevalence and consequences of adverse childhood experiences has shifted policy makers and mental health practitioners towards increasing, trauma-informed and resilience-building practices.[71][72][73] This work has been over 20 years in the making bringing together research are implemented in communities, education settings,[74] public health departments, social services, faith-based organizations and criminal justice.[75][76]

ACEs in childhood and adolescence can affect literacy development in many ways. Children who have faced trauma encounter more learning challenges in school and higher levels of stress internally.[91] Building literacy skills can be negatively impacted both by the lack of literacy experiences in the home, missing parts of early-childhood education, and by actually altering brain development. There are techniques that can be employed by educators and clinicians to try and remediate the effects of the adverse experiences and move children forward in their literacy and educational development.[92]

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) is a research study conducted by the U.S. health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[122] that was originally published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.[69] Participants were recruited to the study between 1995 and 1997 and have since been in long-term follow up for health outcomes. The study has demonstrated an association of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with health and social problems across the lifespan. The study has produced many scientific articles and conference and workshop presentations that examine ACEs.[122][69]

Felitti and Robert Anda from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went on to survey childhood trauma experiences of over 17,000 Kaiser Permanente patient volunteers.[123] The 17,337 participants were volunteers from approximately 26,000 consecutive Kaiser Permanente members. About half were female; 74.8% were white; the average age was 57; 75.2% had attended college; all had jobs and good health care, because they were members of the Kaiser health maintenance organization.[124] Participants were asked about different types of adverse childhood experiences that had been identified in earlier research literature:Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Emotional abuse, Physical neglect, Emotional neglect, Exposure to domestic violence, Household substance abuse, Household mental illness, Parental separation or divorce, Incarcerated household member.[125]

About two-thirds of individuals reported at least one adverse childhood experience; 87% of individuals who reported one ACE reported at least one additional ACE.[125] The number of ACEs was strongly associated with adulthood high-risk health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, and severe obesity,[52] and correlated with ill-health including depression,[129] heart disease, cancer,[57] chronic lung disease and shortened lifespan.[125][69][130] Compared to an ACE score of zero, having four adverse childhood experiences was associated with a seven-fold (700%) increase in alcoholism, a doubling of risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a four-fold increase in emphysema; an ACE score above six was associated with a 30-fold (3000%) increase in attempted suicide.

The ACE Study has produced more than 50 articles that look at the prevalence and consequences of ACEs.[132][133] It has been influential in several areas. Subsequent studies have confirmed the high frequency of adverse childhood experiences.[134]

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) which is run by the CDC,[137] is an annual survey conducted in waves by groups of individual state and territory health departments.. An expanded ACE survey instrument was included in several states found each state.[135] Adverse childhood experiences were even more frequent in studies in urban Philadelphia[138] and in a survey of young mothers (mostly younger than 19).[139] Surveys of adverse childhood experiences have been conducted in multiple EU member countries.[140][141][142]

Early adversity profoundly affects diverse aspects of child development, including brain development, physiological reactivity to stress, and long-term risk for mental illness. Most models of these effects focus on the number rather than character of adverse childhood experiences.

The nature of developmental trauma, born in adverse childhood experiences will be discussed in terms of the measurable effects on the brain. The experience and the behavior of those living with these unresolved histories will be reviewed. Evidence based interventions with the main focus on neurofeedback including specific protocols will be discussed. 041b061a72


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