Wayne State University

Study by professors at Wayne State University shows children born to older drinking mothers show significantly more attention deficits

Dr. Lisa M. Chiodo

DETROIT— Identifying maternal characteristics that increase the risk of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is a critical step toward creating targeted pregnancy intervention. A Wayne State University researcher recently discovered that one such characteristic is maternal age.

Lisa M. Chiodo, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Nursing, has found that children born to older mothers who binge drink during pregnancy are not as attentive as children whose mothers were younger when exposing them to alcohol prenatally. The longitudinal research study will be published in the October 2010 edition of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and currently is available online.

Attention problems are understood to be among the more common FASD in children, which can affect physical, mental and behavioral development.

Nearly 40,000 babies are born with FASD each year, and statistics show that women 34 or older are 37 percent more likely to report drinking while pregnant than their younger counterparts.

Chiodo and her colleagues examined 462 children born to inner city African-American women who were recruited from a university antenatal clinic. At the age of 7, each child took the Conners’ Continuous Performance Test (CPT) to measure his or her inattention and impulsivity, and their teachers completed the Achenbach Teacher Report Form to assess attention problems in the classroom.

Overall, the results indicated that children whose mothers were 30 years of age or older when they were born had poorer attention scores than children born to younger mothers when exposed prenatally to higher levels of alcohol. The CPT in particular revealed that children born to older drinking mothers had the most difficulty sustaining attention during the test and made more mistakes compared to children born to younger drinking mothers.

“It is very important that women are warned that with increasing maternal age, fetuses may be more severely affected by alcohol exposure, even when the mother’s alcohol intake during pregnancy has not increased from previous pregnancies, and even if prior pregnancies and older children may appear to have been unaffected,” said Chiodo.

Moreover, Chiodo and her colleagues believe that understanding the influence of maternal age on the relation between prenatal alcohol and neurobehavioral outcome might assist in the development of focused primary care interventions for older drinking mothers.

“Our findings may justify targeting older drinking mothers for particular attention in primary care settings because their fetuses are at greater risk than those of younger drinking mothers for alcohol-related deficits in attention,” said Chiodo. “Health care professionals need to be aware that increased maternal age among their pregnant patients increases the susceptibility of the fetus to effects of alcohol. Physicians need to be able to appropriately tailor their interventions to patients during standard clinical visits about the relative risks of maternal drinking to fetuses when mothers are older.”

To listen to an interview with Dr. Chiodo, visit here.

Chiodo’s collaborating partners from Wayne State University include Virginia Delaney-Black, M.D., professor of Pediatrics, who is the principal investigator on this National Institute of Drug Abuse-funded project. Other collaborators were John H. Hannigan, Ph.D., deputy director of the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development; Robert J. Sokol, M.D., director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development, and distinguished professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology; James Janisse, Ph.D., assistant professor of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences; Mark Greenwald, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry; and Joel Ager, Ph.D., retired professor in the Department of Family Medicine & Public Health Sciences. Chandice Covington, Ph.D., interim dean at the Anita Thigpen Perry School of Nursing at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center also is a partner.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.