Stressful mid-life events such as divorce, bereavement and illness may increase the risk of dementia in later life, according to a recently published study.
A team of Swedish and US researchers analysed data from a series of psychiatric tests carried out over 40 years on 800 Swedish women of different ages. The women were asked about any experiences of divorce, unemployment, illness amongst their children or other stressful life events, called ‘psychosocial stressors’.
Twenty-five per cent of the women reported one stressful event, and only slightly fewer (23 per cent) had suffered two. Twenty per cent had suffered three and a very unlucky 16 per cent four or more. The women’s reactions to the stressful events were also rated.
Over the decades, 153 (19 per cent) of the women in the study developed dementia, and of those, 104 had Alzheimer’s Disease.
Analysis revealed that women who reported a higher number of stressors at the beginning of the study had a greater chance of developing dementia later. They had a 21 per cent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and a 15 per cent greater chance of developing dementia of any kind.
The researchers noted: “Common stressors may have severe and long-standing physiological and psychological consequences. The number of psychosocial stressors measured in middle-aged women was related to distress and incidence of Alzheimer’s disease almost four decades later.”
Levels of stress hormones in the body can remain elevated long after the events which triggered their release, the researchers add, contributing to disease and dementia. They suggest further research into whether more therapy should be offered to people who undergo stressful events.
Dr Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society said: “We all go through stressful events. 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.”
The research was published in journal BMJ Open.