Middle aged fatherhood carries mental illness risk

Tracy Woolrich's picture
Children born to fathers who were older than 45 are more likely to have mental illness

The sound of a woman’s biological clock can be deafening. After all, women have been told that as their age increases, so does the risk of the child having health concerns. This has been unfair as a man can be a father well into his golden years without any detriment to the child. Studies now show that men too might want to rethink that concept and opt to have children younger.

The research is based on children born in Sweden since the 1970’s to fathers who were older than 45 at time of conception. The analysis indicates that of the millions of births that were evaluated, the children born to older fathers were more likely to have autism, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disease and even schizophrenia.

This is a concern for me as the father of my daughter was 55 when she was conceived. She has never been officially diagnosed with any mental illness however she does exhibit some fringe elements of autism with sensory issues. She has an issue with food textures as well as tactile textures dealing with clothing and bedding. The issue with food has led her to be very limited in the types of foods she will even try. She determines what it might feel like in her mouth by how it looks and will rarely try new foods. In addition, she does appear to have some OCD type behavior and is very ritualistic in her scheduling and planning. This is not necessarily a bad thing as her grades are exceptional and she is as organized as it gets. If this study is true it may explain her behavior as it does not run in the family.

The study analyzed births in Sweden over a period of 28 years. Not only was there an increase in mental illness, but there was also a higher risk of substance abuse, school failure and suicide.
The lead researcher, Dr. Brian D'Onofrio, said "This study is adding to a growing body of research that suggests we also need to consider fathers' age at childbearing."

D'Onofrio, an Indiana University psychologist, worked with numerous researchers to analyze the records of more than 2 million children born in between 1973 and 2001 in Sweden.
The average age of older fathers in the study was 49. The children born to older fathers were 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder, and 13 times more likely to have ADHD. In addition, the children were more than 3 times more likely to suffer from autism than the children born to younger fathers.


Sadly, the children born to older fathers were also twice as likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol and also to attempt suicide. The statistics were not better for academics either with the children being more than 1.5 times more likely to drop out of school,

"We are not saying that all children born to older men are going to have psychiatric problems," D'Onofrio said. "Couples, along with their doctors and society at large, need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of delaying childbearing."

The theory is that there are gene mutations. Two gene mutations appear in children for every year of increase in the father’s age. That adds up to new mutations being passed on by fathers would double for every 16.5 years from puberty forward. In essence, as the father ages, his sperm begins to have genetic errors that are passed along.

Take home message

It has been said that a characteristic of a normal child is he doesn't act that way very often. Perhaps that is true.
Every child has a gift to give to the world. It is our job as parents to allow that gift to flourish and grow.

“Schizoid behavior is a pretty common thing in children. It's accepted, because all we adults have this unspoken agreement that children are lunatics.”
― Stephen King