Mid-life stress ups later-life dementia risk in women

Too much stress in mid-life years may raise a woman’s risk of developing dementia, researchers have warned.

The study, published in the current issue of the British Medical Journal, found that body’s response to common life events fuels long-lasting physiological changes in the brain. The more stressful the events, higher were the odds of developing dementia.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers looked at nearly 800 Swedish women who were participants of the Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg, Sweden, which embarked in 1968.

The study assessed the mental health and well-being of the participants over a period of almost 40 years.

Since the start of the study in 1968, the participants underwent a series of neuropsychiatric tests and examinations after every decade.

The participants were quizzed on 18 common stressors including divorce, widowhood, serious illness or death of a child, mental illness or alcoholism in a close family member, personal or partner’s unemployment, and poor social support.

During the study span, 425 women deaths; 153 cases of dementia and 104 cases of Alzheimer’s disease were reported. On average, a woman was diagnosed of dementia at the age of 78 years.

Upon looking back at the women’s history of mid-life stress, researchers found a direct link between stress and dementia risk. Moreover, the higher the number of stressors a woman experienced at the start of the study, higher was her risk of developing the cognitive degenerative condition, researchers highlighted.

While higher mid-life stress raised the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 21 percent, it raised the risk of developing any type of dementia by 15 percent, researchers marked.

“Stress may cause a number of physiological reactions in the central nervous, endocrine, immune and cardiovascular systems,” Dr Lena Johansson, study’s lead author explained.

But maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help cut the risk, researchers averred. “We know that the risk factors for dementia are complex and our age, genetics and environment may all play a role. Current evidence suggests the best ways to reduce the risk of dementia are to eat a balanced diet, take regular exercise, not smoke, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.”