Health Care

Stressful Experiences can Age Brain by Years

Stressful Experiences can Age Brain by Years

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin looked at 1,320 adults with an average age of 58 to study how stressful life events, ranging from serious illness to imprisonment, affected the brain.

New studies looking at how social conditions may affect risk of dementia found that living in stressful circumstances hits one group hardest: African Americans.

The study reviewed clinical exam data collected between 1964 and 1973 for 6,284 Kaiser Permanente members, of whom 17 percent were black. Eighty-two were African Americans. In recent years, however, researchers also looked at social factors that may increase the risk. The impact of stress in their lifetimes was elicited through a questionnaire on 27 items, such as whether the person had severe problems in school, the family suffered bankruptcy, or a parent suffered from alcohol-related problems. She said that even a change of school could be regarded as a stressful life event for some children.

"Adversity is a clear contributor to racial disparities in cognitive ageing, and further study is imperative", said researcher on the study Megan Zuelsdorff.

During the period that the research focused on ‒ between 1964 and 1973 ‒ the infant mortality rate of black people was almost twice as high as that of whites.

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"This study provides evidence to suggest that living in a neighborhood challenged by poverty, low education, unemployment, and/or substandard housing may increase risk of Alzheimer's disease, and may account for some of the observed differences in Alzheimer's disease risk among people of different racial backgrounds and income levels", said lead researcher Dr Amy Kind. "As we improve our understanding of risk factors for dementia, it is increasingly important to establish the role that stress and stressful life events play".

Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said there could be a number of different factors involved in the link between stress and memory decline.

The risk of dementia in women who reported reoccurring periods of stress in middle age was found to be 65 per cent higher than those who did not. Researchers say the next key challenge is to roll the programme to the 28,000 care homes in the United Kingdom to benefit the lives of the 300,000 people with dementia living in these facilities.

The new research, presented at a conference in London on Sunday, looks at how stress and dementia are related, with the results helping account for higher incidents of such degenerative diseases among African Americans in the USA, who are nearly twice as likely to suffer from the disease over the age of 65. There are now about 16,000 Canadians under the age of 65 living with the disease.

Every year 25,000 new cases of dementia are diagnosed.