This is the next in a series of blogs about “Chronic Stress and Trauma”:  a research study conducted by the American health organization Kaiser Permanente and the CDC. Participants were recruited to the study between 1995 and 1997 and have been in long-term follow up ever since. The study has demonstrated an association of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with health and social problems as an adult.

Types of Trauma and Stress

The study (click on the CDC link to be taken to the study) enlisted over 17,000 Kaiser Permanente patient volunteers and asked questions concerning adverse childhood experiences.  Participants were asked about 10 types of childhood trauma that had been identified in earlier research literature:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mother treated violently
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental abuse
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

Health Problems from Trauma and Stress

About 66% of individuals reported at least one adverse childhood experience while 87% of individuals who reported one ACE reported at least one additional ACE. The number of ACEs was strongly associated with adulthood high-risk health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, and severe obesity. The number of ACE’s also correlated with ill-health including depression, disease of the heart, cancer, lung disease and shortened lifespan. Compared to an ACE score of zero, having four adverse childhood experiences was associated with a 700% increase in alcoholism, twice the risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a 400% increase in emphysema; an ACE score above six was associated with a 3000% increase in attempted suicide.

The ACE study’s results suggested that maltreatment and dysfunction in the household in childhood contribute to health problems decades later. These include diseases—such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke—that are the most common causes of death and disability. This study has produced more than 50 articles that look at the consequences of ACE’s.  Subsequent studies have confirmed the high frequency of adverse childhood experiences, or found even higher incidences in urban or youth populations.

Brain Biology and Stress

Neuroscience researchers have examined possible mechanisms that might explain the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences on adult health.  Adverse childhood experiences can alter the biology of neural networks and the biochemistry of the brain. Additional studies have shown ACE’s have long-term effects on the body, including speeding up the processes of aging and compromising immune systems.

I am trained in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics by Dr. Bruce Perry and have found it helpful in assessing delays children have experienced. He also provides suggestions on reparative activities. With these we can actually see changes that will help children avoid long-term consequences of their experiences. Click on the link to read more about the neuro-sequential method.

My next blog will focus on the flip side of ACE’s – Positive childhood experiences and how they can help shape a child’s future. I will be reviewing a study that came out in 2017 called HOPE – Health Outcomes of Positive Experiences. Hope you will come back.

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