Health Care

Divorce and losing a parent 'raise the risk of dementia'

Divorce and losing a parent 'raise the risk of dementia'

Scientists found that seriously stressful life events can actually age people's brains by four years, leaving them at an increased risk of dementia.

Wisconsin University's school of medicine and public health led a team of experts in the U.S. and found that even one major stressful event earlier in life may impact brain health later on.

Researchers said that, in African Americans, each stressful experience was equivalent to approximately four years of cognitive ageing.

The subjects' average age was 58 and included 1,232 white Americans and 82 African Americans.

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And a third study of almost 1,500 people by another group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin found "markedly worse" cognitive performance, based on tasks such as verbal learning, immediate memory and speed and flexibility of cognition, in people from the most disadvantages neighbourhoods.

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.

"This study provides evidence to suggest that living in a neighborhood challenged by poverty, low education, unemployment, and/or substandard housing may increase risk of Alzheimer's disease, and may account for some of the observed differences in Alzheimer's disease risk among people of different racial backgrounds and income levels", said lead researcher Dr Amy Kind.

When looking specifically at African Americans, the team found they experienced over 60 per cent more stressful events than white people during their lifetimes.

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The findings from a large-scale trial led by the University of Exeter, King's College London and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2017 (AAIC).

"In addition to research on Alzheimer's risk factors and biology, the Alzheimer's Association is particularly interested in increasing understanding of stigma and concern related to Alzheimer's and other dementias in diverse communities", she adds. The findings back up earlier studies that link stress and changes in the brain. It is hard to separate from other conditions such as anxiety and depression, which are also thought to contribute towards dementia risk.

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

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