The 27 life events that could damage your brain
Dealing with stressful life events, such as a difficult mother-in-law, having your home flooded or your partner having an affair, can age the brain by four years and increase the risk of dementia, scientists have found.
Researchers identified 27 scenarios which are so upsetting they put severe strain on the body and cause long-term health problems.
For children and teenagers, having to repeat a year of school, being expelled or growing up with a parent who abused drugs or alcohol were found to be particularly damaging to the brain.
Likewise, for adults, losing a job, the death of a parent or spouse, long term unemployment and joining the Army all had negative consequences in later life, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found.
Experiencing just one of the stressful life events was equivalent to four years of cognitive ageing, meaning that a 66 year old would have the mental capacity of someone who was 70. But experts said the effect was probably cumulative, meaning the more events experi- enced the greater the damage. Cognitive decline in later life is a major risk factor for dementia.
Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Stressful life events can turn our lives upside down for a time and though most people can eventually return to an even keel, we can’t be sure how psychological stress and worse could impact the workings of the brain over time.
“There is a growing realisation that events and experiences throughout life can impact he brain decades later.”
There are around 800,000 people currently living with dementia in Britain, the majority of whom have Alzheimer’s disease, for which there is currently no treatment or cure.
For the new study, researchers asked 1,320 people in the US in their 50s and 60s to undergo memory and problem solving tests to rate their mental ability They were also asked to fill in a questionnaire about their lifetime stress.
The results showed a strong link between lifetime stress and poorer cognition in later life. Just one stressful event earlier in life was equal to four years of cognitive ageing.
A second study by the University of Wisconsin also found that living in a poor neighbourhood increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers said people living in deprived areas often struggled to eat healthy foods or exercise and were more likely to experience high levels of pollution and stress.
It is already known that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood increases risk of diabetes, cancer, and early death, but it is the first to link poor area with dementia.
Dr Amy Kind said: “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.”
Charities said more should be done to help people who experienced stressful situations.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development for Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know that prolonged stress can have an impact on our health. However, it remains to be established whether these stressful life events can lead to an increased risk of dementia.
“Studying the role of stress is complex. It is hard to separate from other conditions such as anxiety and depression, which are also thought to contribute towards dementia risk.
“However, the findings do indicate that more should be done to support people from disadvantaged communities that are more likely to experience stressful life events.”
All the new research was presented at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC 2017) in London.
Stressful life events can turn our lives upside down ... and ... we can’t be sure how psychological stress and worse could impact the workings of the brain over time. Dr Carol Routledge,