Mental Disorder May Spur Math Problems in Teens. (Bipolar Math Subtractions)

By Bower, B. | Science News, January 11, 2003 | Go to article overview

Mental Disorder May Spur Math Problems in Teens. (Bipolar Math Subtractions)


Bower, B., Science News


The severe psychiatric ailment known as bipolar disorder takes individuals on an emotional roller-coaster ride over dizzying peaks of agitation, euphoria, and grandiose thinking and through valleys of soul-numbing depression. New evidence suggests that an unappreciated facet of bipolar disorder has nothing to do with rampaging emotions. It involves a deterioration of mathematical reasoning, at least among teenagers.

Reasons for the emergence of math difficulties in adolescents who develop bipolar disorder remain unclear, according to a report in the January American Journal of Psychiatry. The illness may affect any of several brain areas that have been implicated in mathematical reasoning, propose Diane C. Lagace of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and her colleagues.

"[Our] findings suggest that remedial academic interventions in mathematics are warranted for adolescents with treated bipolar disorder;' the scientists conclude. These "novel findings" need to be confirmed in larger samples of teens and adults with bipolar disorder, the investigators add.

Dalhousie researchers had previously noted a link between math problems and bipolar disorder. Their 1996 review of medical and academic records for 44 teenagers with the illness found that they had performed well in school until the onset of psychiatric symptoms. While the students received treatment for bipolar disorder over the next 4 years, their school performance deteriorated far more in math than in any other subject.

In the new study, the scientists administered academic and intelligence tests to three groups of teens: 44 taking prescribed medications for bipolar disorder and whose symptoms had largely diminished, 30 who had responded well to treatments for major depression, and 45 who had no past or current psychiatric ailment. …

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