Keith Richards says 73 is too old to be a new dad. Is he right?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Rock ’n’ roll legend Keith Richards got himself into an awkward situation recently when he publicly said that his Rolling Stones bandmate Mick Jagger was too old to be a new father. For context, in December 73-year-old Jagger became a dad for the eighth time.

“It’s time for the snip — you can’t be a father at that age,” Richards told WSJ. Magazine. “Those poor kids!” In the interview, he also referred to Jagger as a “randy old bastard.”

But on Wednesday, Richards issued a mea culpa on Twitter. “I deeply regret the comments I made about Mick in the WSJ, which were completely out of line,” he wrote. “I have of course apologized to him in person.”

Plenty of people weighed in on Twitter, saying that Richards’s comments actually weren’t out of line at all:

Sure, most men Jagger’s age are more likely to be new grandfathers than new dads, but does that mean that you’re actually too old to be fathering a child in your 70s? Not exactly, experts say.

For starters, Jagger isn’t a superhuman in the fertility department: It’s possible for other men his age to do the same thing. “As men mature, their fertility does decrease, but there is not an absolute age after which fertility for men is not possible,” Tom Toth, MD, reproductive endocrinologist at Boston IVF’s Downtown Center, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Historically, we’ve seen fathers of various ages. This is not a new situation.”

That is, it’s possible as long as those fathers don’t struggle with erectile dysfunction, which can be an issue for men in this age group, Asima Ahmad, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

However, there is an increased risk of certain mental health issues for children born to older fathers. “The concern for men having children over age 50 is the higher risk of mood disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and a higher risk of autism,” Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, MD, director of fertility preservation at Fertility Centers of Illinois, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

A comprehensive study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2014, analyzed data from roughly 2.6 million people born in Sweden between 1973 and 2001. When compared with children born to men who were between the ages of 20 and 24 when they became fathers, those born to the same men who were 45 and older had nearly twice the risk of developing psychosis (a symptom of schizophrenia), more than three times the odds of being diagnosed with autism, and about 13 times the odds of being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Those children were about 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder as well. They also were more likely to have difficulty at school and to struggle with substance abuse.

While the numbers are alarming, it’s important to put them into perspective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts autism prevalence at around 1 percent of the population, which includes children born to younger and older dads. Even tripling that still keeps the odds fairly low. The same is true for the risk of developing schizophrenia.

However, bipolar disorder impacts more than 4 percent of the U.S. population (including those born to older fathers), per the National Institute of Mental Health, and increasing that by up to 25 times can significantly raise a person’s risk. The same is true for attention deficit disorder, which impacts 5 percent of children, per the CDC.

The health of the father is also worth paying attention to, Mehran Movassaghi, MD, a men’s health specialist and urologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Men in their 70s are more likely to struggle with health issues like heart disease, neurological issues, prostate issues, and certain types of cancer, which can make it difficult to parent young children. “All that being said, not every 70-year-old is going to suffer from these things,” Movassaghi says. “Some men in their 70s look like they’re 50, and their overall health status is better than men in their 50s. They may be fine to father a young child.”

It also depends on how active a man is at this age, William Curry, MD, a professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of General Internal Medicine, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. If he doesn’t have any serious health conditions, “He’s more likely to be able to stay active and feel like staying active,” Curry says. Even if a man of this age has arthritis, which isn’t uncommon, he’s likely to be able to be pretty active. “Arthritis increases with age, but it’s mostly of the ‘wear and tear’ variety that can be managed simply,” Curry says.

But parenting a young child in your 70s can be tough mentally, David Klow, licensed marriage and family therapist, founder of Chicago’s Skylight Counseling Center, and author of the upcoming book You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Most older men are focused on reflecting on their lives and cementing their legacy, he points out. “One concern for someone trying to raise a child in their 70s would be the amount of mental demand and attention that a child requires,” Klow says. “When we are younger, we may have more mental stamina and attention to keep up with a growing child.”

It can also “bring a great deal of emotional turmoil for the father, the child, and the co-parent,” licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. He cites social issues, like the child noticing that his father is different from other dads; behavioral issues, such as the father being unable to participate like other dads; and psychological issues, like the guilt a much older father may have at not being able to do as much as his younger counterparts, as prime examples.

But ultimately, it’s up to the people involved to decide whether or not they want to try to have children at this age. “There’s not a clear-cut answer,” Movassaghi says.

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