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Bipolar Disorder and Its Effect on Cognitive Ability in Children

Posted on 10. Feb, 2011 by Allyson Drewry in Mental Health

Bipolar Disorder and Its Effect on Cognitive Ability in Children

Your child may spend most of the day in school and extracurricular activities. As the school is designed more as an educational environment, your child’s failure or success depends more on his intelligence or willpower. Children who have bipolar disorder can be very intelligent, in fact, some of them are quite gifted. Nevertheless, this disorder has been found to impair learning. In a research sample, children who have bipolar disorder, aged between eight and eleven years, about eighty percent of them require special educational services to make it possible to gain satisfactory progress in school.

Brain mechanisms involved in learning are very complex. It involves the collection of information through senses, filtering, processing the information by comparing it with knowledge, storing the result in the memory as a recently acquired knowledge, and applies it to the present environment. Consequently, it is understandable that a disease that affects the inner-working of brain can cause problems in the learning process. Bipolar disorder in childhood may disrupt the cognitive ability as well as other important aspects such as mood, behavior and motor ability. Obviously these disruptions may intervene with a child’s ability to make sufficient progress at school. Side effects of bipolar disorder drugs can also make learning a challenge. Although bipolar disorder can affect the way children learn, it does not mean that they cannot learn. Adequate support from parents, teachers and schoolmates can make learning easier.

Although researchers and scientists are still trying to figure out what these anomalies are, as parents, it is important to understand that these physical irregularities do exist and children need enough understanding and support to cope with the effects of this disorder in their daily lives and learning process. These are some definitions that can help you understand these abnormalities.

Activation: It happen when our brain cells are activated and electrical discharge level increases. Some areas of the brain can get hyperactive if they have more electric discharges than they should or release them at the wrong time. Brain areas can be calmer if they have less discharge than they should.

Creatine: It is an amino acid that is needed in energy production.

DNA fragmentation: When a cell dies, its DNA strand is fragmented. Higher DNA fragmentation indicates more cell death.

Gray matter: Area of the brain that is necessary for processing information.

Glutamine: An amino acid produced by the body. Stress is more likely if our body can’t produce enough glutamine.

N-acetyl aspartate: A chemical found inside neurons and important indicator of neurons health. Less N-acetyl aspartate may mean lower number of neurons due to death or damages. Lower amount of N-acetyl aspartate is also observed on those with neurological diseases such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.

White matter: Some areas of the brain have nerve fibers that are protected by white coating. White matter allows brain areas to talk with one another and with other parts of the body.

Lesions: Areas where white coating of white matter disappears, which cause neurons malfunctions

Having some abnormalities on the brain doesn’t necessarily mean that the child’s brain functions are compromised and it doesn’t guarantee that undamaged regions of the brain can work properly. In bipolar disorder, it seems that the combinations of timing, severity and progression of impaired function of the brain and abnormal structure that lead to such damage, which means that the rate deterioration will vary and depend on the severity.

One of the important systems in children more likely to be affected by bipolar disorder is the limbic system and other related areas. The limbic system is needed to interpret any sensory information, emotional responses regulation, and memory creation. Related brain regions affected by this disease are important for proper concentration, mood, working memory, motor ability, planning, decision making, organization, information processing, attention and communication. No wonder that if the child has trouble interacting at home, he can feel overwhelmed by the tasks assigned at school and may have difficulty maintaining friendships. As a parent, you probably need to reduce the impacts of abnormalities on the brain, but what can we do? Studies of bipolar disorder progression can provide us with a clue. These studies have found an increase of brain abnormalities associated with repeated episodes of intense mood. Thus, a study has shown that during periods of repeated depression may indicate a decline of IQ score in patients. The decline in cognitive functioning may be restored once the environment is stabilized. Researchers are working on the possibility that drugs such as lithium can have restorative and neuroprotective properties, perhaps even the possibility of canceling some abnormalities. As a parent you want to treat your child with medications that can actually make a big difference in limiting brain abnormalities, which can obstruct the functioning of your child in the future. Prevention of intense mood episodes, finding a good treatment and providing support for your children in their education should be prioritized.

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