A new study discovered a link between everyday stressors and brain diseases, such as dementia, that manifest themselves in later years. Researchers analyzed data collected from 800 women living in Sweden who were evaluated in 1968 and then again every decade or so afterward, until 2005.

The Atlantic reports the details of the study and its implications:

The women ranged in age (at the first evaluation in 1968) from 38 to 54 years old. 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.

Over the years, researchers looked at whether the women experienced any periods of distress, and noted changes in their behavior and intellect. For those who developed dementia, they noted the age of onset, and how the disease progressed. They also made sure to control for other factors, ranging from socioeconomic background to family history of mental illness to smoking.

…Between the initial assessment in 1968 and 2006, 19.1 percent of the women developed dementia. The number of stressors women reported experiencing in 1968 was associated with long-lasting distress over the years, as well as higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia later in life.

“Increased distress could not completely explain the association between midlife stressors and dementia,” the study reads. “One reason for this is that individuals respond differently to psychosocial stressors. Thus, biological responses may develop as a reaction to psychosocial stressors also in individuals who do not experience or report increased distress in association to the stressor.”

…The study offers some potential biological reasons for this link—previous research has shown that stress can affect learning and memory, damage the hippocampus, and increase the rate of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, all things that have been linked to dementia.

The study, published in the medical journal BMJ Open, acknowledges that more research needs to be done to further establish the connection between the two. It seems there is strong evidence to suggest that strains, such as relationship troubles and career stress, can lead to significant health problems. However, as The Atlantic article notes, being aware of this link can “make the stress worse, if you start to feel stressed about being stressed.”

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi


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