Thank goodness someone is now
doing this work
That’s when he asked to participate
in the Alberta ACEs (Adverse
Childhood Experiences) research
program. Psychologists Keith Dobson
of the University of Calgary and
Dennis Pusch of Alberta Health
Services are leading the multi-phased
program to understand how ACEs
can affect health later in life.
Conscious memories of ACEs can
be long forgotten, but the brain and
the body tend to recall the toxic stress
they can cause. People with three
ACEs or more are more likely to use
drugs at an early age, have a teenage
pregnancy, develop a drug or alcohol
addiction, or marry someone with an
They are also more likely to have
a lifetime history of depression or to
attempt suicide and have difficulty
forming relationships and trusting
others. Liver disease, heart disease,
stroke, diabetes, chronic lung disease,
chronic pain and irritable bowel
syndrome are also linked to ACEs.
When people have three or more
ACEs, their children are likely to
have them as well, Dobson says.
If you’ve lived through numerous
ACEs, understanding them can help
you put your past into perspective.
For doctors, understanding their
patients’ ACEs can help them better
understand their patients’ health
history, treatment and care.
Dobson says the Alberta ACEs
research program will ultimately
connect people who have had ACEs
to help. “Until now, there hasn’t
been an ACE-informed model of
care in primary health care.” He
adds: “Eventually, screening for
ACEs could become standard.” This
means your primary care doctor
would ask you about your childhood
Earlier this year, the Alberta ACEs
program surveyed 4,000 people. The
program found the rate of ACEs in
Alberta is similar to that of landmark
American ACEs study in the 1990s by
Drs. Rob Anda and Vincent Felitti.
The Alberta study—the largest
of its kind in Canada—learned one
out of five people has an ACE score
of three or more, the most common
being household mental illness,
substance abuse or sexual abuse.
“A lot of the people surveyed said:
‘Thank goodness someone is now
doing this work,’ ” Dobson says.
U of C, and the Palix and Max Bell
foundations, and is supported by a
number of primary care networks
and their patients.
Burton, who’s written about his
experiences in a self-published book
called A Broken Childhood, says that
during the 10 years he spent at the
children’s home he lacked “any
enduring or consistent interests”
and experienced mood swings, from
withdrawal and aggression to anxiety
and low self-esteem.
“ I spent an inordinate amount of
time hatching schemes to ‘beat the
system,’ ” he says.
He found that “scheme” with
the help of a social worker who
championed his grammar-school
education and became a friend for
50 years. By the age of 30, Burton
had earned a doctoral degree in the
emerging field of recreation and
leisure studies, published three
academic textbooks and immigrated
to North America.
“When I did the ACEs
questionnaire, it opened up in my
consciousness what had been in my
unconsciousness,” Burton says. “And
working with the ACEs program’s
advisory council has given me the
structure to look at the positive and
negative pain of my childhood.”
— Terry Bullick