Stressful experiences 'can age the brain by four years'

From BBC - July 17, 2017

Stressful events in life, such as the death of a child, divorce or being fired, can age the brain by at least four years, US researchers suggests.

They looked at performance in memory and thinking tests of 1,300 people in their 50s to gauge brain health.

The study did not look at the risk of dementia and experts said there could be many different factors at play.

The findings were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London.

Although the research could not establish any direct link between stress and an increased risk of dementia, stressful experiences are known to have an impact on brain function, which could then lead to dementia in the longer term.

Poorer memory

The theory is that stress increases inflammation, which could increase the chances of developing dementia - and this is currently being tested by University of Southampton researchers.

This study, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, found that African Americans were more at risk of stress in life than other ethnic groups. This is because they scored poorer results in the memory tests than other groups and also tended to live in poorer neighbourhoods.

Stressful experiences across all groups included educational difficulties, financial insecurity, serious health problems and psychological trauma.

Other studies presented at the conference point to growing evidence that stress in early life and where people live can be factors in an individual's risk of developing dementia.

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