Stressful events can lead to poorer cognition in later life
DEALING with stressful life events, such as a difficult mother-in-law, being flooded from your home or your partner having an affair, can age the brain by four years, increasing 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, longterm 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 experienced 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 the brain decades later.”
There are about 800 000 people living with dementia in Britain, the majority of whom have Alzheimer’s disease, for which there is 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 questionnaire about their 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 neighbourhood increases risk of diabetes, cancer and fill in a lifetime