University of Cambridge > > Centre for Family Research Seminar Series > The Dunedin New Zealand Longitudinal Study: Is psychiatric disorder in early life a preventable cause of disease in late life?

The Dunedin New Zealand Longitudinal Study: Is psychiatric disorder in early life a preventable cause of disease in late life?

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This lecture will introduce the audience to the Dunedin Mutidsciplinary Health and Development Study, a longitudinal study from birth to age 38 of a representative birth cohort of 1037 New Zealand men and women born in 1972-73. The lecture will begin by describing the design and methods of this unusual study. The study’s recent findings will be reviewed. The lecture will end by describing new research that is now being initiated in the Dunedin Study, which will take the study forward into the midlife stage of development. Life expectancy is growing longer and longer. Policy makers and citizens are concerned that our extra years of life should be healthy, productive, and enjoyable, not extra years of disease and disability. The hope of preventing age-related diseases and of increasing health expectancy requires research to identify candidate risk targets that can be treated successfully, in early life. The Dunedin Study will be testing the novel hypothesis that a persistent history of psychiatric disorder in early life might accelerate individuals’ risk of progression toward age-related disease. Cohort members’ psychiatric histories of recurrent Depression, recurrent Anxiety, chronic Schizophrenia-syndrome, persistent Alcohol Dependence, and persistent Cannabis Dependence will be defined using data from repeated assessments in this longitudinal study. A unique design feature is that baseline physical health and baseline neuropsychological assessments were carried out from birth to age 13, prior to the onset of most psychiatric disorders. These prospective baseline health data are essential to test whether health and neuropsychological functions have in fact deteriorated in individuals with persistent psychiatric disorder. We will now assess at age 38 sensitive outcome measures of sub-clinical health status that are known predictors of age-related diseases in later life: neuropsychological tests of memory and executive functions, the metabolic syndrome, immunological biomarkers, telomere erosion, periodontal health, bone density, and respiratory function. These markers were chosen because they show meaningful variation among people in their late 30’s and are known early warning signs for dementia, cardiovascular disease and other age-related diseases. If the hypothesis that psychiatric disorder accelerates progression toward age-related disease were shown to be true by this research, this would imply that age-related diseases could be reduced and well-being in old age enhanced by government policies to successfully treat child and adolescent psychiatric disorders.

This talk is part of the Centre for Family Research Seminar Series series.

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