Excepts from the Harvard Mental Health Letter September 2006
Minding Your Mind
New Key to Autism
September 25, 2006
By Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Causes These Genetic Errors?
Should Older Men Stop Fathering Babies?
A study published in the September, 2006 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry may give older prospective fathers pause before plunging into biological parenthood. The authors found a significant increase in the risk of autism and similar disorders as fathers got older
This is not the first discovery of its type. Healthcare professionals have long known that as parents age, the risk of giving birth to a child with certain illnesses goes up. Older mothers, for example, are more likely to have a child with Down syndrome. In recent years, studies have revealed a link between aging fathers and schizophrenia.
Until recently, health care professionals have focused almost exclusively on the mother's age as a risk factor for health problems in the child. But we now know that the father's age also adds to the risk of potentially devastating diseases. And there is no practical way to detect these illnesses during pregnancy. For those weighing the risks, the decision can be wrenching. Adoption and in some instances a sperm donation may be acceptable alternatives to older fathers wanting to build a healthy family.
Michael Craig Miller, M.D. is Editor in Chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. He is also associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been practicing psychiatry for more than 25 years and teaches in the Harvard Longwood Psychiatry Residency Program.