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Could higher stress levels increase your risk of dementia?

A new study published in the online journal BMJ Open, claims that elevated levels of stress in middle age could lead to the development of dementia when elderly.

The study of 800 women in Sweden, noted a severe, long-term impact on the brain caused by the stress of traumatic life events such as bereavement, divorce or redundancy.

The participants in the study were all born between 1914 and 1930. They were questioned at regular intervals over a 40 year period about stress levels linked to major life events. 16 per cent of the women had experienced more than four stressful life events, whilst one in four reported at least one major event over the period. Those who had experienced more stress were 21 per cent more likely to develop dementia.

Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said it was difficult to deduce whether there was a direct causal link between stress and dementia: “We know that the risk factors for dementia are complex and our age, genetics and environment may all play a role. Current evidence suggests the best ways to reduce the risk of dementia are to eat a balanced diet, take regular exercise, not smoke, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check. If you are feeling stressed or concerned about your health in general, we would recommend you talk this through with your GP.”

Studies will soon take place to look at whether any correlation between stress and dementia can be found in men as well as women.