A study has found that stressful midlife events in a woman’s life are associated with higher risks of developing dementia in later life.
Researchers in Sweden have discovered that stressful events that could occur in mid-life, such as divorce, the loss of a child or if a woman suffers serious ill-health in their late 30s, 40s or 50s have a greater chance of developing dementia in later life.
High levels of stress in middle age which may also include widowhood or seeing a close relative battle mental illnesses can raise the risk of a woman getting Alzheimer’s disease by 21% and of getting any form of dementia by 15%, according to a study in the medical journal BMJ Open, reports the Guardian.
The research, which is unusual as it examined the varying types of stress experienced by 800 Swedish middle-aged women in 1968, and then followed them at regular intervals for 38 years until 2005, whilst noting how many displayed symptoms of distress such as fear, sleeping problems and irritability.
The study says that stress hormones could be to blame as they trigger harmful alterations in the brain. Stress hormones can cause a number of changes in the body and affect things such as blood pressure and blood sugar control, reports the BBC.
“Our study shows that common psychosocial stressors may have severe and longstanding physiological and psychological consequences”, said the co-authors led by Dr Lena Johansson, of the neuropsychiatric epidemiology unit at Gothenburg University. A woman or her partner being unemployed and socially isolated were also among the sources of stress relayed by participants. Of the 800 women, 425 died during the course of the study while 153 (19%) developed dementia, at an average age of 78. “Stress may cause a number of physiological reactions in the central nervous, endocrine, immune and cardiovascular systems”, the study concludes.
Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “From this study it is hard to know whether stress contributes directly to the development of dementia, whether it is purely an indicator of another underlying risk factor in this population of women, or whether the link is due to an entirely different factor.”