The 27 life events that could dam­age your brain

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HEALTH - By SARAH KNAP­TON

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,

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