Studies Find Transgender, Non-Binary Autism Link And Higher Risk For Dementia

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Far more U.S. teens than previously thought are transgender or identify themselves using other nontraditional gender terms, with many rejecting the idea that girl and boy are the only options, new research suggests.

“Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth,” says Annette Verster, a technical officer in the HIV Department at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.

The research found that almost 3% of Minnesota teens did not identify with traditional gender labels such as “boy” or “girl.” That number is higher than researchers expected. A UCLA study from a year ago estimated that 0.7% of teens identified as transgender.

Some experts believe rising awareness of transgender issues has led increasing numbers of transgender teens to come out, or to experiment with gender identification.

The study also found that kids reported worse mental and physical health than other kids, echoing results seen in previous research.

Individuals who identify as transgender tend to experience higher rates of mental health issues than the general population. While approximately 6.7 percent of the general U.S. population suffers from depressionand 18 percent grapple with some iteration of an anxiety disorder, nearly half of all individuals who identify as transgender experience these issues. What’s more, over 41 percent of trans men and women are estimated to have attempted suicide — a rate that’s nearly nine times as high as the rate of cisgender Americans. 

About 30 percent of trans female teens – who identify as female but have birth certificates that label them as male – have tried suicide at least once, as have 28 percent of adolescents who are questioning their gender identity, the study also found.

Transgender, non-binary autism link

New research indicates that transgender and non-binary individuals are significantly more likely to have autism or display autistic traits than the wider population – a finding that has important implications for gender confirmation treatments.

The study, led by Dr Steven Stagg of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and published in the journal European Psychiatry, is one of the first pieces of research to focus on people who identify as non-binary.

It found that 14% of the transgender and non-binary group had a diagnosis of autism, while a further 28% of this group reached the cut off point for an autism diagnosis, suggesting a high number of potentially undiagnosed individuals.

Researchers concerned about LGBT and dementia

Most of us don’t like to think about getting older, although we admit it beats the alternative. But there are a lot of older LGBTQ people — and will be even more in the next decades — and as we age, we have to think about age-related conditions and whether they affect LGBTQ people differently than straight and cisgender folks.

A new study found that more than 14% of LGBTQ participants reported increased rates of subjective cognitive decline, or a self-observed experience of worsening or frequent confusion or memory loss in the past year. That’s roughly one in seven adults, the study says, while the rate among straight, cisgender participants was one in ten.

Jason Flatt, an assistant professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at UCSF and the study’s lead author, said his team is not certain what is causing the cognitive impairment in sexual or gender minorities. He believes it may be due to higher rates of depression, separate health concerns such as PTSD, inability to work, high stress and/or lack of access to regular healthcare.

For example, researchers believe that individuals with a long history of clinical depression, particularly when it goes untreated, could be at higher risk for developing dementia.

Although Flatt’s findings aren’t directly linked with the certainty of developing dementia, he hopes the research will draw attention to a concerning trend and prompt the LGBTQ community to seek out medical care.

Maybe it’s not dementia, maybe it’s something else that you could address and that could ensure that you have a healthy brain function throughout your life as your aging,” Flatt told NPR.

It is estimated that 25 million people, or 0.3 to 0.5% of the global population are transgender.

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