Background Growing up in a family where a father or mother has Huntington’s disease may have a life-long impact, especially where relationships are concerned. The parent’s disease may increase the risk for adverse childhood experiences and/or may negatively affect parent-child relationships, which may lead to an insecure attachment style and lower psychological well-being in adulthood.
Aims To explore adverse childhood experiences and adult psychological characteristics (attachment style, psychological well-being) in persons from families with an HD affected parent.
Methods In 74 adults from families with HD, adverse childhood experiences were assessed, as well as adult attachment style and psychological well-being. Data were gathered in a context of predictive genetic testing, and were compared to those of 127 controls.
Results Persons from families with HD reported more childhood adversity than controls, especially more parental dysfunction and more psychiatric problems of a parent. Adults from HD families had more attachment anxiety, and lower psychological well-being, compared to controls. Having experienced the parent’s disease before age 16 was associated a higher number of adverse childhood events, and with attachment anxiety in adulthood.
Conclusions Clinicians should be aware that offspring of a parent with HD may be exposed to childhood adversity, and may be more likely to develop attachment anxiety, which is associated with difficulties in relationships and with psychological vulnerability. Parents with HD who have young children should be offered specialised care when needed, to prevent attachment anxiety. Adults with attachment anxiety should receive special attention, e.g. when they present for predictive testing, to prevent psychological problems.