How Reducing The Number of Stressful Events in Our Lives Could Help Beat Dementia
Claire J. Hanley, 12 Aug 17
       

Matters of the mind. Shutterstock

Stress is bad for our physical and mental health. It has been linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and mood disorders, such as depression.

Now new research suggests that the actual number of stressful experiences we encounter can have dramatic consequences for the health of our brains.

In all, 27 events were identified as being particularly detrimental. These include being expelled from school during adolescence and experiencing unemployment as an adult.

Each instance of stress was said to age the brain by an average of 1.5 years. So exposure to a handful could set you back a decade in terms of cognition.

The research identifying the 27 events was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London in July 2017. A group from the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison asked 1,320 people to remember the stressful events that had occurred across their lifespans and then complete a number of tasks to assess their thinking skills. These included tests related to various aspects of memory – known to deteriorate with age – such as the ability to accurately recall details from a story.

Participants who had experienced a greater number of stressful events were found to score poorly at these tasks, indicating a loss of cognitive function.

Linking these findings to dementia could undoubtedly help identify those most susceptible to developing neurodegenerative conditions – and lead to potential risk reducing interventions, designed to modify the effects of stress.

But is the onset of something as complex as Alzheimer’s disease likely to come down to a simple numbers game, in which one too many stressful events mean it’s game over?

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