THURSDAY, December 26, 2019 (HealthDay News) – Children's mental health problems are hard to predict until they cause problems, but researchers may have found a way to use brain scans to detect which children are at risk of depression , anxiety and attention problems.
"We are facing a tremendous epidemic with anxiety and depression in adolescents, and we wanted to find an early marker that predicted the development of anxiety, depression and attention symptoms," said lead study author Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli. She is a professor of psychology and director of the Center for Biomedical Imaging at Northeastern University, in Boston.
In a small sample of less than 100 children with no known mental health problems, the research team found that connections in certain areas of the brain observed at age 7 could help predict mental health problems that developed four years later.
"The study could have great clinical implications," Whitfield-Gabrieli said. "The identification of these biomarkers at such an early age could promote early interventions (exercise, mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy) that could mitigate symptoms and possibly even prevent the progression of psychiatric illness."
But he also rushed to notice that this is an early study, and the scans are not available as a screening tool now. "Although I think that neuroimaging can become a useful screening tool in the future, I don't think we are there yet," Whitfield-Gabrieli said.
Dr. Victor Fornari, vice president of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, reviewed the findings.
"The identification of biomarkers for psychiatric disorders remains a promising area of research," he said, adding that this study showed that it might be possible to visualize and measure mental health vulnerabilities before they cause symptoms.
The study included 94 children who began the study at 7 years (including 53 boys and 41 girls). The majority (77) had no known mental health problems; 17 were at risk of having a reading problem.
All children had functional magnetic resonances. This type of scan gives more details about what happens in the brain by measuring changes in blood flow, according to the Radiological Society of North America.
The researchers found that a certain pattern of connections in an area of the brain at age 7 could help predict who might have depression and anxiety at age 11. They also found that weaker connections in this area of the brain predict who could have less age-related problems. eleven)
Whitfield-Gabrieli said he hopes to see the brain scans in babies below, to see if these mental health problems could be identified even earlier in life.
If other studies confirm that researchers can predict who is at risk for conditions such as depression or attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder, interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness training may help.
Whitfield-Gabrieli said the good news is that "behavioral interventions have no side effects."
The findings were published online on December 26 in JAMA Psychiatry.