MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Rebecca A. Charlton PhD
Senior Lecturer in Psychology; Undergraduate Admissions Tutor
Department of Psychology
Goldsmiths, University of London
New Cross London, UK
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Charlton: Although Autism Spectrum Disorders are classified as developmental disorders, they last throughout life. Autism Spectrum Disorders were first identified in the 1940s, but it was only from the 1960s onwards that awareness of the condition began to increase. Initial research into Autism focused on the area of greatest need, i.e. childhood and education. Only now that those individuals first diagnosed with Autism are reaching old age are studies able to examine what happens in late-life. Although there are an increasing number of older adults with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders, it is often difficult to identify individuals willing to participate in research. One alternative is to explore Autism traits in the general population, this is known as the Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP). These BAP traits occur in relatives of those with Autism and in the general population. By examining the BAP in community-dwelling older adults, we can begin to understand whether these traits confer additional risk to in ageing.
MedicalResearch.com: What did you do in the study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Charlton: Adults aged over 60 years old were recruited to take part in the study. They completed questionnaires reporting on presences of Broad Autism Phenotype traits, executive functions (the ability to plan and organise behaviour), mood (depression and anxiety), and social support.
Of the 66 individuals who participated, 20 individuals reported significant BAP traits – classified as the Broad Autism Phenotype group. Individuals in the BAP group reported more problems with executive functions, higher rates of depression and anxiety, and less social support than those in the non-BAP group. Further analyses demonstrated that having Broad Autism Phenotype traits was the factor that most explained presence of depression and anxiety symptoms among these older adults.
MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Charlton: These results suggest that presence of Autism traits in the typical population may lead to increased risk for depression and anxiety, lower executive function abilities and less social support in later-life. Given that older adults are often at risk for declines in cognitive abilities and mood, and increased social isolation, presence of BAP traits may represent an additional risk factor in ageing. This work may suggest that ageing with Autism Spectrum Disorders may represent an additional risk and clinicians should be alert to potential difficulties.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Charlton: We are keen to examine if the same pattern of associations occurs in older adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Extending this work to include adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders across the lifespan is the next step.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Aging and autism spectrum disorder: Evidence from the broad autism phenotype
Gregory L. Wallace, Jessica Budgett andRebecca A. Charlton
Article first published online: 11 MAR 2016
Autism Research DOI: 10.1002/aur.1620
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Dr. Rebecca A. Charlton PhD (2016). Autism Spectrum Disorders Linked To Depression in Adults MedicalResearch.com