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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Nurturing May Protect Kids from Brain Changes Linked to Poverty

Seems the key is not poverty per se, but parental stress. Not that poverty is OK!
Thinking back to my Peace Corps days in Liberia, West Africa.  Almost all the villagers lived in poverty (according to American standards). Yet I observed very little depression and much resilience in dealing with stress.  I attribute it to the support network  (largely nurturing)  of family, kinship and tribal ties. While there was some behavior that seemed petty to me, there was a strong sense of community where people’s basic needs were largely met.  Don’t have any studies to back me up on this, just personal observation.

An MRI scan highlights the hippocampus (pink) in a child’s brain. Washington University researchers found that poor children with parents who were not very nurturing were likely to have a smaller hippocampus than those raised by more attentive parents. (Credit: Washington University Early Emotional Development Program)

From the 28 October 2013 article at ScienceDaily

Growing up in poverty can have long-lasting, negative consequences for a child. But for poor children raised by parents who lack nurturing skills, the effects may be particularly worrisome, according to a new study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Among children living in poverty, the researchers identified changes in the brain that can lead to lifelong problems like depression, learning difficulties and limitations in the ability to cope with stress. The study showed that the extent of those changes was influenced strongly by whether parents were nurturing.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that a nurturing home life may offset some of the negative changes in brain anatomy among poor children. And the findings suggest that teaching nurturing skills to parents — particularly those living in poverty — may provide a lifetime benefit for their children.

The study is published online Oct. 28 and will appear in the November issue of JAMA Pediatrics.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers found that poor children with parents who were not very nurturing were likely to have less gray and white matter in the brain. Gray matter is closely linked to intelligence, while white matter often is linked to the brain’s ability to transmit signals between various cells and structures.

The MRI scans also revealed that two key brain structures were smaller in children who were living in poverty: the amygdala, a key structure in emotional health, and the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is critical to learning and memory.

“We’ve known for many years from behavioral studies that exposure to poverty is one of the most powerful predictors of poor developmental outcomes for children,” said principal investigator Joan L. Luby, MD, a Washington University child psychiatrist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “A growing number of neuroscience and brain-imaging studies recently have shown that poverty also has a negative effect on brain development.

“What’s new is that our research shows the effects of poverty on the developing brain, particularly in the hippocampus, are strongly influenced by parenting and life stresses that the children experience.”

..

Luby’s team found that parents living in poverty appeared more stressed and less able to nurture their children during that exercise. In cases where poor parents were rated as good nurturers, the children were less likely to exhibit the same anatomical changes in the brain as poor children with less nurturing parents.

October 29, 2013 - Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry | , ,

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