Older Fathers, Schizophrenic Children. Part 1

For years, women have been alarmed by ticking biological clocks and limited-shelf-life-eggs, while men have neither nagging clocks nor expiration dates stamped on their sperm. They have all the reproductive time in the world.

Or so it seemed. The scientific news that there’s an increased risk for the brain disease schizophrenia in the children of older fathers has pushed aging parenthood in the media spotlight — and given both men and women something to think about when it comes to planning a family.

Written by Dolores Malaspina, M.D., and published in the April 2001 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, the article says older fathers may run a greater risk of producing children with schizophrenia because as they age, their sperm contains more genetic mutations — or mistakes – than the sperm of younger men. Malaspina is an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, both in New York City, N.Y.

As a basis for their work, Malaspina and her colleagues reviewed the records of more than 87,000 people born in Jerusalem between 1964 and 1976. They then matched them up with records kept by Israel’s Ministry of Health. Their findings showed that men aged 45 to 49 were twice as likely to father a child who will eventually be diagnosed with schizophrenia than the children of men who fathered children before their 25th birthday.

So what does this mean to men getting a later start at fatherhood? “I wouldn’t want to discourage older men from having children because most children don’t develop schizophrenia,” says Malaspina. “But men should be aware that as they age, there is a greater risk for genetic abnormalities in general.”

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