Stressed Women Develop Alzheimer's
October 1, 2013

Study Shows Stress Leads To Dementia And Alzheimer’s In Women

[ Watch the Video: Mid-life Stress Can Bring On Dementia ]

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Women who experience stressful life events in their 30s, 40s and 50s are more likely to develop dementia later in life. An extensive study of Swedish women spanning almost 40 years found mid-life stress accounted for a 21 percent greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Women who encountered stressful events more frequently were more likely to develop the neurodegenerative disease. According to the study authors from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, a hormone released during stressful events can trigger harmful alterations in the brain. These hormones also affect blood pressure and blood sugar control in the body.

The results of this new study appear in the most recent edition of the journal BMJ Open.

“This suggests that common psychosocial stressors may have severe and long-standing physiological and psychological consequences,” explain the authors in their paper. Though no medications have been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, this study suggests simple stress management practices and behavioral therapy could potentially decrease the risk of the disease.

To conduct the study, the Swedish researchers analyzed results from a long-term mental health study. The Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg began in 1968 and, as a part of the study, these women were subjected to a round of neuropsychiatric tests in the first year. Specifically, the researchers looked at middle-aged women in their mid 30s, 40s and 50s. The same tests were conducted at regular intervals over the following 40 years.

When the study began, one-fourth of the 800 women said they had experienced some sort of stressful life event up to that point. These events included losing a spouse or loved one, alcoholism or other illness in a loved one, or losing a job. Nearly the same number of women (about 23 percent) said they had experienced at least two of these stressful events in their life, while one in five of the sample group of women said they experienced at least three stressful events at that point in their life, and 16 percent of the women said they could relate to four or more of these circumstances.

The research showed the most common stressor to be mental illness in a close family member.

While these women were being observed during the 40 year study, 425 of them passed away at an average age of 79. One in five of these women developed dementia between the first year and 2006, while another 104 developed Alzheimer’s disease in the same period. On average, those who developed Alzheimer’s were 78 years old. The researchers say it took on average 29 years following the stressful events for the women to develop the disease.

All told, the number of stressful events encountered by these women increased their chances of showing long-term symptoms of cognitive decline. Those who experienced some sort of stress while they were middle aged were 21 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and 15 percent were more likely to develop any type of dementia in their later years.

"We know that the risk factors for dementia are complex and our age, genetics and environment may all play a role,” Dr. Simon Ridley of Alzheimer's Research UK, who was not associated with the study, told BBC News.

“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.”

Dr. Ridley suggests that people should talk with a doctor when they are feeling stressed to help mitigate any further issues.