Study: Major Midlife Stresses Tied to Dementia Risk

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Common stresses in our lives may contribute to dementia, a long-term study published in the medical journal BMJ Open suggests.

The study was conducted over nearly 40 years on 800 Swedish women, beginning in 1968 when participants were between ages 38 to 54. “A psychiatrist examined the women and rated several common stressors, including divorce, illness in loved ones, problems with their own or their husbands’ work, or having a limited social network,” The Atlantic says.

Researchers followed up with the women at points throughout their lives — in 1974, 1980, 1992, 2000 and 2005. “At each follow-up visit, researchers documented how many symptoms of distress — irritability, fear or sleep disturbances — each woman had experienced in the preceding five years,” MedicalNewsToday.com says.

By the end of the follow-ups, 153 of the women had developed dementia, the study says. On average, it was diagnosed at age 78. Of the 153, a total of 104 had Alzheimer’s.

The number of stress factors present in 1968 was associated with a higher incidence of dementia, as well as with more future stress. “The number of stressors the women reported in 1968 was associated with a 21 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and a 15 percent increased risk of developing any kind of dementia,” MedicalNewsToday.com says.

Future research could further define the relationship between stress and dementia, see whether stress management and therapy could reduce the risk, and check for similar findings in men. For now, it’s at least obvious that we want to minimize stress.

“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. Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, told the BBC.

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