Published: Mon, July 17, 2017
Medicine | By Megan Pierce

Stressful life experiences 'can age brain by years'

Stressful life experiences 'can age brain by years'

The loss of a child, divorce, getting fired and other stressful life events can cause the brain to age by at least four years, USA researchers have found.

The University of Wisconsin study concluded that one major life stress event equals four years of cognitive aging. Clive Ballard, who led the research, said that people with dementia who are living in care homes are among the most vulnerable in our society. The effects may also be the outcome of cascading effects such as when disruptive events influence a person's early schooling, which then limits his achievements later in life. He's a professor at the University of Exeter Medical School in England. "It is the social environment that's contributing to disparities".

"Not one of these things is good news - except that they are modifiable", Zuelsdorff said.

Researchers have long theorized that blacks are at higher risk for developing Alzheimer's disease due to genetics and higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases in this population.

But researchers in recent years have also been focused on social factors that might raise the risk.

Stress is linked to social disadvantage and members of minority groups tend to suffer disproportionately from these disadvantages.

The study looked at 1,320 adults, 1,232 of whom were Caucasian. The subjects were born between 1919 and 1932. In African Americans, the average is four years, which is far worse than the one and a half year for whites.

African Americans born in those states had a 40 percent higher risk of dementia than black people who were born elsewhere. The risk was twice as high, even after accounting for differences in education and other health risk factors, as it was for whites born outside states with high infant mortality rates.

"It is hard to separate from other conditions such as anxiety and depression, which are also thought to contribute towards dementia risk". "We should really think about brain health as a lifelong concern".

Experts said that the studies provide additional evidence of racial inequities as a factor in people's likelihood for developing dementia, which suggests a need for urgent interventions.

The researchers have mapped over 30 million neighborhoods in the USA based on socioeconomic data and then analyzed it against available information on Alzheimer's disease patients.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health looked into the socioeconomic status of 1,479 people and tested their cognitive skills through memory, learning and verbal tasks. This is because they scored poorer results in the memory tests than other groups and also tended to live in poorer neighbourhoods. For the past year or so, she focused on how that would intersect with race.

"Studying the role of stress is complex". The others were non-Hispanic whites.

Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire about stressful experiences.

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