Psychological stress in mid life can increase risk of dementia later on

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Most people are aware that psychological stress, particularly if it is severe and prolonged, can have a negative effect not only on mental health but on physical health too.

Now recent research from Sweden has highlighted that too much psychological stress in middle age, can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia later on in life.

The research which has been published in the journal ‘Brain’ was carried out by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and was based on a major study of women.

The original study followed up on women aged between 38 and 60 for a period of 35 years from 1968 until 2000. The women were asked about psychological stress in a survey on 3 separate occasions in 1968, 1974 and 1980 and 1,415 women responded.

“Stress was defined as a sense of irritation, tension, nervousness, anxiety, fear or sleeping problems lasting a month or more due to work, health, family or other problems” said Lena Johansson, a researcher from the Neuropsychiatric Epidemiology Unit at the Sahlgrenska Academy’s Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry at the University of Gothenburg.

The researchers identified that 161 of the participants of the original study on women developed Alzheimer’s disease and found that the risk of developing dementia was 65 percent greater for those women who had said they had experienced psychological stress during mid life.

“This is the first study to show that stress in middle age can lead to dementia in old age, and confirms similar findings from studies of animals. Stress has previously been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, heart attack and hypertension” says Johansson,

The study is the first in Sweden to link psychological stress in mid life to dementia in later life.

“This study could result in a better understanding of the risk factors for dementia, but our results need to be confirmed by other studies, and further research is needed in the area” said Johansson.

The researchers did point out that most of those who said they were stressed didn’t actually go on to develop dementia so at the moment they couldn’t go as far as to warn people to avoid stress or about the dangers of stress due to an increased risk of dementia.

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