Older Men Are More Likely to Father Bipolar Children

By Eliza Strickland | September 2, 2008 4:56 pm

baby old manOlder men have an increased risk of fathering children who eventually develop bipolar disorder, according to new research. It’s the latest study to refute the earlier theory that men could father children into their old age with no ill effects; other recent studies have linked older fathers to an increased risk of miscarriages, and to children with schizophrenia or autism.

The theory linking paternal age with an offspring’s health rests on the genetics of aging sperm. Spontaneous mutations can accumulate in the genes of a man’s sperm cells as he ages. These cells divide as many as 660 times by the time a man reaches 40, by some estimates. Each division increases the risk of acquiring a harmful mutation from erroneous gene copying, the theory holds [Science News]. Women are born with their full complement of eggs already in place in the ovaries, and therefore don’t have to worry about increased genetic errors as they age.

In the study, published in the Archive of General Psychiatry [subscription required], researchers identified 13,428 patients in Swedish registers with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. For each one they randomly selected from the registers five controls who were the same sex and age but did not have bipolar disorder [BBC News].

After controlling for factors such as the family’s history of mental illness, they found that the older the father, the greater the likelihood of a bipolar child. [T]he researchers found that children born to fathers older than 30 had an 11 percent higher risk of developing bipolar disorder compared to younger fathers. Children whose fathers were older than 55 had a 37 percent increased risk [Reuters]. The correlation was particularly pronounced in early-onset bipolar disorder that is diagnosed before the age of 20, and which is believed to have a strong genetic component.

Image: iStockphoto

Related Post: Men Have a Biological Clock, Too

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • http://how-old-is-too-old.blogspot.com/ Leslie Feldman

    I have collected all the papers and articles I found on the topic of the paternal age effects on offspring in my blog: http://how-old-is-too-old.blogspot.com/ For studies on breast cancer, prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s, type 1 diabetes, MS, schizophrenia, autism etc. and paternal ageing look there.

  • http://www.imedix.com/bipolar iMedix

    I think,Overall, children born to fathers in their mid-50s and older were found to have a 37% higher risk for bipolar disorder than children born to dads in their early 20s.

    Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Patients, Bipolar Symptoms, Bipolar Community, Manic-Depressive, Mania, Mood Swings, Mood Stabilizers, Mental Health Evaluations, Episodes

  • jasmine

    wow this is an interesting article i never would have figured this to have been true older men……..wow thats CCRAZYYYYYY

  • Brandy

    The father of my child was 51 at conception. Our son is now 4 years old and so far a beautiful blue eyed healthy child.I sure hope the fact I am 24 years younger than the father that the child will not have any medical problems.

  • Milli

    I want to believe that Brandy’s post was about more than simply her wanting us to know that she was drawn to an older man. Brandy dear, the article is NOT about age differentials. Nor is it about IQ. It is yet another nail in the coffin for older men who presume themselves VIRILE enough to father a child, never considering the consequences!
    I have a personal friend who, on a second marriage to a woman half his age, fathered 4 children beginning when he was 46. Ten years later the stunning turn of events was that SHE left him–with their four children to care for plus one of her own! He is now 73, and has 3 dysfunctional male children living under his roof from ages 21 – 25; diagnosed schizophrenic, asberger’s and depersonalization disorder. These young men were fine until they hit early 20s. The 4th child is still under 20 and “seems” fine at this time. Can you imagine what it would be like to know that you’ll have such responsibility till the day you die! And sue to these living arrangements, the father fights depression daily and has regular appointments with a psychologist.
    I sincerely hope your child has no medical problems, but the harsh truth, as many men or women find out years later when they are not in a position to physically care for the child(ren), that you won’t really know for about 16 more years.
    This is a subject that needs to be addressed in every high school class so that young women are steered clear of the attraction to older men–and vice versa. The ONE-THIRD statistics are compelling and sadly won’t be a deterrent for all, but might be for some of the more astute ones!

  • Milli

    CORRECTION to last sentence in the second paragraph:

    “And sue to these living arrangements”

    should have read

    “And to add pressure to these living arrangements”

  • Katherine

    I am really saddened by this information. I am a product of an older man and a younger woman. My mother was 21, my father 38 when I was born. I find that because my father primarily raised me since birth that I have an attraction now at 30 years of age to be more attracted in every way to older men. The man that I am dating currently is 59 years old, and will be 60 in August, I will be 31 in August. He always says that he is too old for me, but it would be a lie to think that there is not a huge attraction, as well as an amazing relationship that has been established here over a four year time line. I have been thinking about having a child with this man, and now it seems that it won’t be possible because these statistics are quite alarming. As for the study itself, I did start having a lot of problems socially and emotionally from the age of about 16 until the age of 27. I also had a problem with alcohol dependency and drug dependency from the age of 16 until 27. I am finally on the right track with my life only to find that this information could make everything change again. I wish this wasn’t true because I really love this guy. What do you do as a 30 year-old woman? Find a younger guy that is not intellectually sound but have a chance of having a healthier baby, or take your chances having a helathy baby with an older man, that might not be so healthy later on in life? IDK. Help…

  • klaravoyance

    It makes all the sense in the world to me. I have a half brother whose father was in his sixties when he was conceived. He had always been a healthy happy person until he hit the age 25. He lost every thing. His mental collapse hit the family out of no where.

    Now four years later it is still a struggle. My brother is not who he use to be. Bipolar has ruined his life.

    We had no idea where this thing came from since there is no real history of mental illness in the family. The old sperm makes sense to me and has provided a little closure as to why this has happen.

  • Susan

    I find these comments extremely interesting.
    My father was 60 and mother 31 when I was born. My father had been married before he met my mother and had two sons from his first marriage. My father always wanted a daughter; I’m sure this is why he chased a younger woman. My parents had two sons before they had me.
    I am now 51; at the age of 29 I had a severe breakdown after the birth of our daughter which was the trigger for my bipolar disorder. Life for me has been difficult; an obsolute rollercoaster of Doctors, hospitals and medications.
    I am fortunate that I have a very loving, understanding husband who has been prepared to put up with me. I am also fortunate to have finally found a wonderful female Psychiatrist who has helped me to understand and manage my illness.
    My two brothers; now aged 53 and 54 have no mental illness; so in my family not all old sperm has caused bipolar disorder!


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