Experiences in childhood can impact long-term health, wellness.
BY MARNEY SIMON
With a record-breaking year for drug deaths in the country, and more than 10 people already placed into treatment for opiate addiction with the help of the Braidwood police department, Braidwood continues to be a city in crisis.
But members of the Braidwood Area Healthy Communities Coalition (BAHCC) are looking at the problem from more than one angle. The month, members began to tackle understanding how adverse childhood experiences - ACEs - can affect the health and well-being of those in Braidwood.
“Why do you think Braidwood has more of a drug problem than other communities? It’s a really tough question to answer,” said Pete Dell’Aquila, project coordinator for the BAHCC. “If we had that answer, we’d be able to do a lot more about the problem.”
Dell’Aquila said part of the problem may lie with how many ACEs are experienced by local youth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ACEs are part of the foundational research connecting childhood experiences - both positive and negative - with future physical, mental health, and behavioral issues, including future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health issues.
“What happens with these adverse childhood experiences, is that when they happen at a very young age, they kind of alter the way that the brain develops,” Dell’Aquila said. “You’re a lot more likely to experience different health problems, whether it’s heart disease, or a lot of difference health disparities that come from having an adverse childhood experience.”
ACEs are identified as abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Abuse includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Neglect includes physical and emotional neglect.
Household dysfunction includes growing up in a home where one or more members suffers from mental illness, domestic violence, or substance abuse, having a relative who is incarcerated, or where the parents are divorced.
Nationwide, 67 percent of children live in a home with at least one ACE. The more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they are to have disrupted neurodevelopment, social, emotional, or cognitive impairment, or adopt health-risk behaviors.
“People with high ACEs scores are the people who are a lot more likely to commit suicide, they are more likely to abuse substances, and if we start screening or we’re more aware of these ACEs, it might give us a better picture of what’s going on in our community.”
According to the CDC, states have been contributing to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) since 1982. Over the past eight years, many states have also collected data on ACEs for BRFSS, an annual, random-digit-dial telephone survey that collects data from non-institutionalized U.S. adults regarding health conditions and risk factors.
The most recent results of that survey show that almost two-thirds of adults surveyed have at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs.
The ACE score is used to assess cumulative childhood stress. The findings of that study over the past several years show a relationship between ACEs and negative health and wellbeing outcomes as an adult.
“We’ve heard a lot about trauma as a child, but there hasn’t been a lot of science behind it. This study is focusing on the science aspect of it,” Dell’Aquila said.
Subjects with increased ACEs also have higher risk of myocardial infarction, asthma, mental distress, depression, smoking, disability, lower income, unemployment, lowered educational attainment, coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
This latest survey follows a CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverses Children Experiences Study, conducted between 1995 and 1997. According to the CDC, that study was one of the largest to explore childhood abuse and neglect, and how experiences corelate to negative health and wellbeing late in life.
The information pulled from state and national studies can be used on the local level, to help the BAHCC members tackle community problems more effectively.
“This might be able to help answer our question, ‘why does our community look different from others?’” Dell’Aquila said. “There might be some people who have experienced these traumatic events that are slipping under the radar… Then we need to bring those services to our community, and that’s something that we’re working on as well, through the coalition and some of the work we’re doing with the Wilmington Coalition.”
Dell’Aquila noted that if BAHCC members can understand how ACEs affect members of the community, then the coalition can more effectively understand how Braidwood residents perceive the world, and how they cope with stress.
“If you can identify these things early, we may be able to help people down the road,” Dell’Aquila said.
More information on BAHCC can be found online, at braidwoodcoalition.org.