According to a new study, the death of a spouse, a contentious divorce, illness in a relative, or loss of a job can create enough stress to greatly increase a middle-aged woman’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease decades later.
The study which began in 1968, followed 800 Swedish women for almost 4 decades.
At the onset, subjects born in 1914, 1918, 1922, and 1930 were randomly chosen and given baseline psychiatric exams and tests to determine if they had experienced one or more of 18 psychological stressors.
They also underwent additional testing to determine if they had any evidence of dementia. At regular intervals during the next 37 years, the exams and tests were repeated.
Over the course of the study, 425 women died; 107 developed Alzheimer’s disease, while 46 had other forms of dementia.
When the researchers analyzed their data, they found a significant link between a history of mid-life stress and the risk of developing dementia. In fact, the more stressful events the women experienced, the higher their dementia risk.
While there is a need for more research to prove cause and effect, the authors suggest that stress hormones known to raise blood pressure and affect blood sugar control could be triggering harmful changes in the brain.
They also propose that future research look at interventions like stress management and behavioral therapy to see if they may reduce the dementia risk.
In the meantime, experts recommend getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, not smoking as well as maintaining normal blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol levels to optimize health and hopefully, reduce the risk of dementia.