Chronic Stress a Dementia Risk Factor

Stress isn’t healthy, but most women don’t think it’s serious enough for them to worry about. They may be wrong in that, as a new study in BMJ Open has found that chronically stressed women are more likely to develop dementia, after they have reached menopause. But, researchers are also quick to emphasize that stress is just one of the many factors that cause the condition.

The Study Proper

StressBased on a 1968 study from a large group of Swedish women, when the volunteers were at least 38 years old, the research team surveyed 800 women about their mental health at least once every 10 years until 2005.

The researchers also considered the women’s experiences and responses to 18 stressful life events such as death in the family, a divorce, or the illness of a relative. They studied how these affected the women. Neuropsychiatric exam results, as well as hospital records, were examined and used to come up with a diagnosis for dementia.

By 2005, more than 150 women were found to have developed dementia, and more than 100 were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress and Dementia

Study author Lena Johansson, a neurologist at Gothenburg University in Sweden, says that the relationship between stress and dementia in women is still subject to a lot of questions. Factors related to their lifestyle, such as diet, exercise, smoking, and hereditary health conditions, can also contribute to their situation.

Johansson noted that the study took these factors into account and added that “I have no reason to believe that it is not the same among men.”

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She further elaborated that their findings do not have a direct relationship between stress and dementia, and other factors may contribute to the women developing it later in life.

“This is the best evidence by far to date linking psychosocial stressors with dementia. It’s really astounding,” Robert S. Wilson, who studies Alzheimer’s disease at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, remarked.

Wilson, who was not involved in the study, praised it for considering other factors and life events, going beyond hospital records and reported stress levels. He also noted that the stressful events seemed to have a similar effect to the study volunteers, regardless of how they dealt with their situations.

“These are low-level chronic stressors that affect virtually every family network,” he said in an interview. He emphasized that people who experienced similar events should not be too worried about dementia.

Johansson shares the same sentiments, stressing, “Not everyone who has stress or stressors developed dementia.”