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Study Reports Increased Risk for Psychosis when Brain Processes Are Slow

Update Date: Apr 26, 2013 10:11 AM EDT

Psychosis occurs when the brain loses contact with reality and starts experiencing delusions and/or hallucinations. Psychosis can result from numerous factors, ranging from alcohol or drug abuse to brain disease. Due to the dangers surrounding different levels of psychosis, researchers have looked into ways of possibly finding the condition early and treating it subsequently. Although doctors and scientists know the risk factors, such as schizophrenia, for people who might develop psychosis, people with psychosis often do not get diagnosed until they are much older. In a new study, however, scientists looked at the possibility of identifying children who might be at high risk for psychosis and mental illnesses later in life. The researchers discovered that children who tended to process information at a much slower rate had an increased risk for psychotic experiences.

The researchers from Cardiff and Bristol Universities looked at already compiled data from 6,784 children who participated in the Children of the 90s study. This study measured the performance levels of children who took several cognitive tests, which tested for brain processing speed, attention, reasoning, memory and ability to solve problems at the ages of eight, 10 and 11. Of the total sample size, 787, which translated to 11.6 percent, experienced psychotic episodes by the age of 12. The researchers discovered that this group of children also had slower brain processes. The researchers controlled other factors, such as psychiatric history and developmental delay.

"Previous research has shown a link between the slowing down of information processing and schizophrenia and this was found to be at least in part the result of anti-psychotic medication. However, this study shows that impaired information processing speed can already be present in childhood and associated with higher risk of psychotic experiences, irrespective of medication," the lead author, Miss Maria Niarchou, who is a Ph.D. student from Cardiff University's School of Medicine, stated. "Our findings improve our understanding of the brain processes that are associated with high risk of psychotic experiences in childhood and in turn high risk of psychotic disorder later in life."

Researchers knew that children who suffered from psychotic episodes were at a higher risk for developing mental illnesses during adulthood. This study and its discovery of brain processing speed could help scientists and doctors better assess children who are at risk.

The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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