AAIC: Stressful life experiences age the brain by four years, studies show - Alzheimer’s Society comment

A series of studies confirm racial inequities in numbers of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias - even after age 90.

The studies, reported today at the the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC 2017) in London, point to growing evidence that early life stress and neighbourhood conditions contribute to dementia risk in later life.

One new study in Wisconsin found that a single major stressful event in early life is equal to four years of cognitive aging, and African Americans are most at risk - on average, they experience over 60% more of such events than non-Hispanic White people over their lifetimes.

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, so it’s no surprise that this study indicates stressful life events may also affect our memory and thinking abilities later in life. 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.

'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. To unravel this, more research is needed over a longer time scale. If you are experiencing stress or worried about your health, it’s important to visit your GP.'