Genetic and Environmental Stability in Attention Problems Across the Lifespan: Evidence From the Netherlands Twin Register

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Abstract

Objective: To review findings on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and attention problems (AP) in children, adolescents, and adults, as established in the database of the Netherlands Twin Register and increase the understanding of stability in AP across the lifespan as a function of genetic and environmental influences. Method: A longitudinal model was fitted on Netherlands Twin Register AP scores from 44,607 child (<12-year-old), adolescent (12- to 18-year-old), and adult (>18-year-old) twins. Results: Mean AP showed a downward trend with age. Age-to-age correlations ranged from 0.33 (50-≥60 years old) to 0.73 (10-12 years old). Stability in individual differences in AP was due to genetic and environmental factors, and change was due primarily to environmental factors. Nonadditive genetic influences were present from childhood to adulthood. Total genetic variance decreased slightly throughout aging, whereas environmental variance increased substantially with the switch from maternal to self-ratings at 12 years of age. As a result, heritability coefficients decreased from 0.70 to 0.74 in childhood (maternal ratings) to 0.51 to 0.56 in adolescence (self-ratings), and 0.40 to 0.54 in adulthood (self-ratings). In childhood, male subjects scored higher than female subjects. After the rater switch at 12 years of age, female subjects tended to score higher than male subjects. Conclusions: Stability of AP is the result of genetic and environmental stability. The decrease in estimated heritability at 12 years of age is due to an increase in occasion-specific environmental variance and likely reflects a methodologic effect. Because environmental influences have lasting effects on AP, their early detection is crucial. © 2013 American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-25
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Volume52
Issue number1
Early online date24 Oct 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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