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Studies have shown that children with asthma are at higher risk for depression. Research also has shown an association between a parent or caregiver’s depression and worsening symptoms in an asthmatic child.

Now researchers at the University at Buffalo and the University of Texas, Dallas are exploring this connection further: They are beginning a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study to determine whether treating a depressed caregiver will improve the child’s asthma.

The findings could have major implications for the way children with asthma are treated. The researchers say the findings also eventually may reduce health disparities in child asthma because there is a higher percentage of depressed caregivers among children with asthma from minority and socio-economically disadvantaged groups.

The researchers are recruiting 200 families for the study through Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The study will involve screening caregivers of children with asthma for depression and offering treatment for those who are depressed. It builds on a previous pilot study that suggested a connection between caregiver depression and worsening asthma in children.

“We are hypothesizing that an improvement in the caregiver’s depression will lead to a subsequent improvement in the child’s asthma,” said Dr. Bruce Miller and Beatrice Wood, Ph.D., both professors of psychiatry and pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, co-founders and directors of the Center for Child and Family Asthma Studies at WCHOB, and principal investigators on the grant.

Miller and Wood have been working together on factors that affect asthma in children for more than 20 years. “We have continuously found associations between emotional stress and worsening asthma, and that family relational stress plays a key role,” Wood said.

The current study is funded with a $3.1 million NIH grant. Caregivers of school-aged children with asthma who feel overwhelmed, sad and unable to enjoy life are welcome to contact the Child and Family Asthma Studies Center, near Women & Children’s, for more information about the study. They may speak to the study coordinator at 878-7541.