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Does father's age increase child's autism risk?

Today, I received a question from a man who wondered: How old is too old for a man to father a child? Do similar age limitations apply for men as they do for women? Read on for my advice.

Dear Dr. Manny, Is it possible for a man to be too old to father a baby? After age 45 or 50, will the quality of my sperm drop and increase the likelihood of autism in my children? – Andrew

The simple answer is, no, men do not face the same deadlines women face. While sperm quantity, mobility and quality all decline drastically after age 50, there are a number of famous examples of men fathering children many years afterwards.

Charlie Chaplin, for example, had a child at age 73, and Tony Randall had two children in his late 70s – and he’s not even the oldest father on record. In case you were wondering, that would be an Indian farmer named Nanu Ram Jogi, who fathered a child at age 90 in 2007.

However, as I said earlier, that doesn’t mean that fertility problems for men don’t exist. Male fertility decreases with every passing decade, especially after age 35. The sperm count in men aged 50-80 years old is typically about 75 percent of the count in men aged 20-50 years.

Sperm mobility - or rather, how well sperm swim – also declines with age. Mobility tends to be best before age 25 and lowest after age 55. From age 35 to 55, sperm mobility has actually been shown to decrease by 54 percent, regardless of how often a man has sex.

Most importantly, there are significant changes in quality of sperm after age 50. While women typically get all the blame regarding age and birth defects and men are given a “pass” by society, the truth is that older men are also much more likely to have a child with birth defects or other health problems.

So far, studies have shown that the older the man, the greater likelihood there is of fathering a child with autism, schizophrenia, Down syndrome or other genetic diseases. There is also greater risk of the mother suffering a miscarriage.

So, while men’s fertility doesn’t completely disappear with age the way women’s fertility does, and while men don’t bear the same personal risks that women do as far as heart complications and premature delivery, that doesn’t mean that men get off scot-free, even if they are medically able to impregnate a woman basically at any age.

Also, there is one last thing to consider: It’s very tough to run after a toddler once you hit 60.

E-mail me your health questions at drmanny@foxnews.com.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's Senior Managing Editor for Health News. Prior to this position, Alvarez was a FNC medical contributor.
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