women with lots of stress are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease down
the road, a new study suggests.
might be the case is still a mystery, lead author Lena Johansson from the
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at Gothenburg University in Mölndal,
difficult to say how important stress may be in predicting dementia compared to
many other influences like poverty, diet, smoking and blood pressure, she told
link remained after the researchers took those factors into account. "I
have no reason to think that this relation is not the same among men,"
Johansson added. The new data come from a large study of Swedish women started
in 1968, when participants were at least 38 years old.
surveyed 800 of those women about their mental health and wellbeing at least
once every decade until 2005.
Stressful life events
study, Johansson and her colleagues looked at women's reporting of 18 stressful
life events like divorce, widowhood or a relative's illness and how distressed
they felt by those events. They also consulted hospital records and results of
neuropsychiatric exams to track which participants were diagnosed with dementia
during the study.
that for each additional stressor women reported in 1968, their risk of later
developing Alzheimer's disease increased by about 20%. Women who reported
long-term distress also had a heightened risk of Alzheimer's, regardless of how
many stressful life events they had experienced.
The study does
not prove cause and effect, and some other factor common to the women might
account for their risk of later dementia.
Still, Robert S Wilson, who studies
Alzheimer's disease at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, said,
"This is the best evidence by far to date linking psychosocial stressors
with dementia. It's really astounding. "He said it was especially
impressive that the study was able to link life events, not just how stressed
women felt, to later dementia.
Everyone reacts differently
Everyone reacts to stressful events
differently, but these events seemed to have a similar effect across the board,
said Wilson, who was not involved in the study.
are low-level chronic stressors that affect virtually every family
network," he told Reuters Health. Still, people who have lost a spouse,
been divorced or experienced other stressful events shouldn't necessarily be
worried, he said. "I think these are modest effects overall," Wilson
said. "Stress and stressors are just one of several risk factors,"
Johansson said. "Not everyone who had stress or stressors developed
problems are very common, and they are of definite public health
importance," Wilson said. "I think we should be thinking about stress
reduction as a more routine kind of healthcare option."
many people think of as common life events may continue to cause distress for
years, he said, and stress reduction techniques like "talking it out"
or seeking professional help might be beneficial.