Childhood Neglect May Affect Brain Development, Study Says

Childhood Neglect May Affect Brain Development, Study Says

MONDAY, Jan. 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Childhood neglect is associated with changes in the brain’s white matter, a small study shows.

“Our findings have important implications for public health related to early prevention and intervention for children reared in conditions of severe neglect or adverse contexts more generally,” the researchers wrote.

The study looked at 26 abandoned children in Romania who experienced social, emotional, language and mental development neglect while living in institutions. They were compared with 23 children who were placed in high-quality foster care and 20 children who grew up with their own families.

The children were assessed at ages 30 months, 42 months, 54 months, 8 years and 12 years. The results showed a significant association between neglect early in life and changes in white matter. White matter enables nerve fibers in the brain to communicate.

However, changes in white matter were less significant in children who had been institutionalized and neglected, but placed in high-quality foster care at an early age, according to the study published online Jan. 26 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“Results from this study contribute to growing evidence that severe neglect in early life affects the structural integrity of white matter throughout the brain,” Johanna Bick, of Boston Children’s Hospital, and colleagues wrote in a journal news release.

Experience plays a major role in children’s brain development, said the researchers, who noted that children raised in institutions often have poorer brain development and behavior than other children.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about child neglect.