I was recently fascinated by a TED talk by Nadine Burke in which she describes the lifelong health impacts of adverse childhood experiences (ACE's). The California BRFSS (n=27,745) data from 2008, 2009 and 2013 showed that ACE's can significantly increase the risk of chronic diseases such as asthma, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, COPD and Alzheimer's later in life.
There are 10 types of ACE's in 3 categories:
1. Abuse: physical, emotional, sexual
2. Neglect: physical, emotional
3. Household dysfunction: mental illness, incarcerated relative, mother treated violently, substance abuse, divorce
Results showed that almost 2/3 adults had experienced at least 1 ACE, and 1/6 had 4+ ACE's, the most common being emotional or verbal abuse. Those with 4+ ACE's are also less likely to pursue college education, and are more likely to live in poverty and to be unemployed. This makes me sad.
So what can be done?
Doctors can start assessing ACE scores in their patients. A recent NPR story speaks to how uncomfortable this makes some physicians. Simply by talking about these things, we reduce shame. It also opens the door to appropriate referrals to specialists who can help.
Understanding your ACE score and the associated risks can help you to be more vigilant about your mental and physical health. It's pretty amazing to think about the pain and suffering of chronic disease that could be avoided if we were to start addressing these things sooner in a person's life.