Dealing with stress during middle age may trigger lasting physiological changes to the brain, increasing the risk of developing dementia later in life. The study is based on data from over 800 Swedish women gathered from 1968 to 2008. Researchers looked at previous studies which showed how stress can cause both structural and functional brain damage.
Damage remains long after the stress has passed
Women included in the study were born in 1914, 1918, 1922, and 1930. They agreed to neuropsychiatric tests in 1968, 1974, 1980, 1992, 2000 and 2005. Women were asked about the psychological impact of 18 common stressors, including divorce, widowhood, illness or death of a child, mental illness or alcoholism in the family, unemployment and poor social support. At each subsequent visit, they documented how many symptoms of distress each woman had experienced in the preceding five years.
Increased risk of dementia for women with early life stress events
About a fourth of the women experienced a stressful event at the beginning of the study. Approximately one-fifth ultimately developed dementia, most of them with Alzheimer’s disease. The number of stressors reported early, in 1968, was associated with a 21% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and a 15% increased risk in developing any kind of dementia.
While more studies are needed to confirm a causal relationship between early adulthood stress and dementia, interventions can still be implemented for stress management and behavioral therapy. Dr. Lean Johansson, co-author of the study, said another study would be done looking at men and the effect of stress on their long term mental health.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, BMJ Open