Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Asperger Syndrome and Depression - Swedish Research

University and hospital researchers in Sweden are publishing a new study in the September 2011 issue of Research in Developmental Disabilities that raises critical awareness particularly for adult patients living with Asperger Syndrome.

As Lugnegard, Hallerback, and Gillberg report, much less research has been published for adult patients of normal intelligence dealing with autism spectrum disorders and/or Asperger Syndrome (AS).

They conducted a study of 54 willing adults with a clinical diagnosis of AS. About half were women. Their report details the varied clinical backgrounds of these participants who averaged the age of 27. Interestingly, 52% of the group received their AS diagnosis in their late teens or later.

Highlighted Results

Lugnegard et al report:

  • 70% had experienced at least one episode of major depression (and about half of those had recurrent major depression, and five met criteria for bipolar II disorder);
  • 56% met criteria for at least one anxiety disorder, some with two or more. Various aspects of anxiety were commented including: social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, agoraphobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD);
  • Two met criteria for psychosis;
  • 13% had experienced recurrent hallucinations (primarily auditory) without other signs of psychosis;
  • 4% had bulimia nervosa;
  • 11% had previous substance dependence disorder;
  • 30% had been given an earlier diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and
  • 2% had been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.
Socio-economic and gender differences did not appear to influence the observed results.

What Is Major Depression?

The U.S. National Center for Biotechnology offers these possible symptoms of depression:
  • Agitation, restlessness, and irritability;
  • Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss;
  • Very difficult to concentrate;
  • Fatigue and lack of energy;
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness;
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt;
  • Becoming withdrawn or isolated;
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed;
  • Thoughts of death or suicide;
  • Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping; and
  • Depression can appear as anger and discouragement, rather than feelings of sadness.

What Can Be Learned Here?

The Swedish report reads like a call to action for depression awareness with AS. They point out how "strikingly high" the rate of lifetime major depression was observed in young adults with AS and how these results align with their clinical experience treating "hundreds of individuals with AS."

The research team mentions that no previous studies have focused on AS adults experiencing anxiety disorders. Various scenarios and social interactions are discussed that may explain how AS patients can be impacted or even disabled by related fears, e.g., fears of some social situations or even fears of the perceptions by others of their AS behaviours.

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