HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — Traumatic events can have a life-long impact on your health, both mentally and physically. There’s a number between zero and 10 that is associated with negative experiences during childhood and it can impact a person’s life into adulthood.
The score is based on Adverse Childhood Experiences, or “ACEs.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least five of the top 10 leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes, and suicide, are associated with ACEs. That’s because most can be tied to lifestyle choices.
Huntington resident Anna Lewis is a wife and mother-of-two. She took the ACEs test and on the scale from zero to 10, she scored above a 4.
“It changed by life, it did, that very minute,” Lewis said. “People are afraid to admit their parents did something wrong, and they’re afraid to admit that they’ve done something wrong.”
ACEs include parents being separated or divorce, physical or mental abuse, even living with someone who has mental health problems.
“It’s a way to target what it was exactly that hurt you in your life, or traumatized you, or that you couldn’t get past,” Lewis said. “We can unlock the reasons for it so people can begin to understand their own behaviors.”
Lewis says it immediately ended any inclination she had for physical punishment for her children.
Extreme and repetitive stress is called “toxic stress” and while the child may not always remember what happened, the body does. That’s because toxic stress caused by ACEs can alter our DNA. When we’re kids, our body and brain will make stress hormones. If there’s too much it can harm the structure of the brain.
“This is different,” Lewis said. “It’s a way that you can take control over your own life. You can take control over your healing process.”
Dr. Lyn O’Connell is the Associate Director of Addiction Sciences at Marshall Health. She says the score doesn’t always predict a negative outcome.
“The thing about ACEs is that it is something that is correlated, it’s not causation,” O’Connell said. “That’s really important because it means that just because you have a high ACEs score, or whatever ACEs score, does not mean that you will ultimately have to have negative outcomes.”
Dr. O’Connell says just like there are risk factors for other diseases, like a risk for high cholesterol or high blood pressure – because the person knows about it they can change their diet and exercise to become healthier. O’Connell says ACEs are the same way.
“Because you know about it, you can change your lifestyle or other behaviors to engage in more healthy behaviors,” O’Connell said.
“Lewis says because of the ACE study, she’s a brand new person.
“I have a social life, I have friends, genuine friends that have the same interests as I do,” Lewis said. “My husband and I are able to connect and have a healthier relationship.”