Research has found a link between institutional deprivation and smaller brain size in young adulthood. A London-based team examined a group of adoptees from Ceaușescu-era live-in institutions in Romania where children had no toys, food, or relationships. Many of these children were adopted by families from the UK.
The English and Romanian Adoptees (ERA) study follows the development of some of these children after adoption. It compares their physical and cognitive development to adoptees who did not experience institutional deprivation. The study shows that children who spent less time in such institutions fully recovered in their development, but children who spent a longer amount of time in such institutions developed cognitive problems and mental health disorders.
The research team was looking for the relationship between brain development and the increase in mental health disorders. Using MRIs of the brains of those who had lived in institutions, the study shows a direct relationship between the length of deprivation in childhood and smaller brain size, which is linked to the symptoms of ADHD and lower intelligence. These changes in brain structure are still visible more than 20 years after leaving the institution.
Ongoing research is needed to monitor changes in the brain so that professionals can identify, treat and prevent these psychiatric conditions.