Women who suffer from a lot of stress in middle age may increase their risk of developing dementia in later life, according to research published today (Monday 30 September) in the online journal BMJ Open.
The researchers say that the response to common life events – such as divorce or serious illness or death of a close family member – may trigger long lasting physiological changes in the brain. The study looked at 800 Swedish women whose mental health and wellbeing was tracked over a period of almost 40 years as part of the larger project which started in 1968. Between 1968 and 2006, 10 per cent (153) developed dementia, 104 of whom developed Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Society comment:
‘This study is not the first to link stress with the development of dementia. However, it is still unclear whether stress is a cause of the condition or exacerbates the symptoms.
‘We all go through stressful events at some stage in our lives. Understanding how these events may become a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease is key to helping us find ways of preventing or treating the condition. This is an important area of research and one that we are currently supporting. It’s hoped the results of our study, and others, will offer clues to new treatments or better ways of managing Alzheimer’s.’
Dr Doug Brown
Director of Research and Development
Research Ref: Dr Lena Johansson et al. ‘Common psychosocial stressors in middle-aged women related to longstanding distress and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a 38-year longitudinal population study’, published in BMJ Open, 30 September 2013