Daily life is filled with challenges and frustrations with which we cope as best we can. Resolved negative situations, people, or moments that we’re able to move past and get over don’t cause a ripple effect in your entire existence.
These circumstances are known as “acute” stress and everyone has it at some point.
It’s the chronic stress that takes you down for weeks, months, or even years at a time that could substantially raise the risk of dementia in women.
The results of a study spanning 38 years in the lives of 800 women in Sweden and the findings were interesting. In a joint venture between Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, and Utah State University, research was begun in 1968. Every decade, the women were questioned about stress levels and their emotional states.
Sources of serious stress included…
- Divorce, loss of a long-term relationship, or being widowed
- Caretaking of a sick relative
- Dealing with mental illness (self, spouse, or immediate relative)
- Isolation socially
- Dependence on government assistance
- Stress on behalf of spouse (illness or job loss)
- Loss of child or child with serious illness or disability
If intense feelings of irritability, tension, fear, anxiety, or sleeplessness affected more than one month of their lives during the prior decade, participants scored their life experiences.
Psychiatric evaluations were also done each decade and researchers used medical diagnostic tools to test women and dementia. The study (which concluded in 2005) found that the more “stressors” participants experienced at the start of the research measurably increased their overall risk for dementia towards the end.
Women and Dementia | Stress is No Friend of Yours
Now the final results of the almost forty years of research could be interpreted in many ways.
As usual, the validity of patients rating their own stress is called into question. However, I’d counter that no matter how someone outside a situation would categorize a stressful event, it’s the perception of the person living that experience that has the final say about how it affected them. A circumstance that might have little effect on one person could be a source of major destruction on another.
One thing that cannot be denied is that stress leads to rampant inflammation. Inflammation is listed as a root cause of many awful diseases and conditions…including neurodegenerative disease. Chronic stress means chronic inflammation. Diagnosing dementia in women with decades of these conditions within her body should surprise no one.
Another aspect of the same study was published in Neurology that took a broader view of the emotional stress experienced by the women throughout their middle years. Some of this emotional stress is well within a person’s ability to control and I wonder at the future applications of “mind over matter” to effectively lower dementia risk in women.
- Anxiety or worry
- Jealousy or envy of others
- Moodiness or irritability
- Neurosis (easily distressed)
- Social ability (extreme shyness to being outgoing)
- Tendency to become angered
- Felt guilt or inspired feelings of guilt in others
Physical risk factors for dementia in women and men have been well defined over the last decade. Lena Johannsson, PhD with the Swedish team explained, “Personality may influence the individual’s risk for dementia through its effect on behavior, lifestyle, or reactions to stress.”
The women who ranked highest in negative emotion (with the longest bouts of self-scored stress) had double the risk of dementia later in life. Those women who were more withdrawn from others and were easily distressed had the highest risk of Alzheimer’s disease overall with more than 25% developing it by the end of the study.
Learning to control the stress in your life is critical to your health now and in your long-term future physically, emotionally, and mentally. Finding ways to overcome negative emotions could open the door to new viable treatment options for neurodegenerative disease.
Your mind is powerful and you may have the key to maintaining your cognition into oldest age. Control the stress and focus your being on more positive avenues of thought.
So simple it makes sense.