Divorce, job loss can age brain 'by years'

Ebony Scott
July 17, 2017

The new research, presented at a conference in London on Sunday, looks at how stress and dementia are related, with the results helping account for higher incidents of such degenerative diseases among African Americans in the United States, who are nearly twice as likely to suffer from the disease over the age of 65.

Experts led by a team from Wisconsin University's school of medicine and public health in the U.S. found that even one major stressful event early in life may have an impact on later brain health.

The tests examined several areas including four memory scores - immediate memory; verbal learning and memory; visual learning and memory; and story recall.

The research - done by the University of Wisconsin - looked at 1,300 adults with an average age of 58 to see how their brains had been affected by different stressful things.

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A stressful life experience can be losing a job, death of a child, divorce, or growing up with a parent who abused drugs or alcohol. Another study looking at dementia risk in states with the highest levels of infant mortality showed that African Americans born in such states were at a 40% higher risk of dementia than African Americans not born in those states and an 80% higher risk than Whites not born in the states. It comes as no surprise that white Americans faced less stressful events because African Americans are also subjected to racial discrimination.

A series of studies presented at the 2017 Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC 2017) has highlighted racial inequities in the risk of dementia. Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association, says this disadvantage is something governments have been struggling with worldwide and it requires coordinated efforts to address. The findings back up earlier studies that link stress and changes in the brain. "As we improve our understanding of risk factors for dementia, it is increasingly important to establish the role that stress and stressful life events play", said Alzheimer's Society director of research Doug Brown.

Researchers say the next key challenge is to roll the programme to the 28,000 care homes in the United Kingdom to benefit the lives of the 300,000 people with dementia living in these facilities. It is hard to separate from other conditions such as anxiety and depression, which are also thought to contribute towards dementia risk.

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