Older adults who reported being emotionally neglected as children were at a higher risk for stroke, according to new research published in Neurology.
“The study underscores the importance of a loving, nurturing environment in early life,” study researcher Robert S. Wilson, PhD, senior neuropsychologist at Rush University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, told Healio.com.
Robert S. Wilson
Wilson and colleagues obtained data on 1,040 adults aged at least 55 years who were part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, an ongoing longitudinal study.
Participants in the longitudinal study completed 16-item surveys to measure physical and emotional abuse before aged 18 years, which included subscales of emotional neglect — defined as failing to provide for a child’s emotional needs — parental intimidation, violence and turmoil, and financial need.
At approximately 3.5 years of follow-up, there were 257 deaths, and 192 participants had brain autopsies; 53.7% showed no signs of stroke, 21.9% had one stroke and 24.5% experienced two or more strokes.
The researchers used regression analyses to determine the association between stroke and childhood adversity.
Adjusting for age, sex and education, Wilson and colleagues found that overall childhood adversity was associated with a higher likelihood for stroke (OR=1.1; 95% CI, 1.05-1.15). However, in further analyses, only the subscale of emotional neglect was associated with stroke risk (OR=1.097; 95% CI, 1.048-1.148). The risk for stroke was almost three times higher in those who reported moderately high levels of emotional neglect vs. those who reported moderately low levels of emotional neglect (OR=2.83; 95% CI, 1.95-4.09). The results stayed the same after controlling for factors such as diabetes, physical activity, smoking and cardiovascular disease.
The researchers said one limitation to the study is that participants reported on childhood adversity many years later when they may not have remembered events accurately.
“The mechanisms underlying the association of early-life emotional neglect with late-life cerebral infarction are not clear,” the researchers wrote. “Emotional neglect may contribute to poor self-care, and it is possible that aspects of physical health underlie the association.”
Wilson and colleagues added that future studies need to clarify the association between childhood emotional neglect and a higher risk for stroke.
Disclosure: See the study for a full list of financial disclosures.