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Women's Health

Stressful Middle Age & Alzheimer's Risk in Women

Swedish study looked at effect of issues such as divorce, job strain over nearly 4 decades
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Other studies have tied heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, to Alzheimer's, and lower income and education levels have also been linked to the disease.

Still, Johansson's team found, stressors themselves were connected to an increased risk of Alzheimer's.

Gordon, who was not involved in the study, agreed that it's "biologically plausible" that chronic stress could contribute to dementia. But a big unanswered question is whether any efforts to reduce stress in your life can also trim the risk of Alzheimer's later on.

"This type of study can't tell us if there's an intervention that can affect people's outcomes," Gordon said. "We can't make any recommendations based on this alone."

An interesting finding, Rush University's Wilson said, was that the number of stressors in a woman's life seemed to matter, regardless of whether she felt "stressed out" by them.

Women in the study were asked about their typical "distress" levels -- including tension, fear or sleep problems related to work, family or their health. Women with "longstanding" distress were at increased risk of Alzheimer's. But so were women with a greater number of life stressors.

That suggests that stressors can take a toll, even if you do not feel overwhelmed, according to study author Johansson.

"These are the kinds of stressors that grate on people day to day," Wilson noted. And this study, he said, suggests that these issues should not "just be brushed off." He agreed, though, that the question remains: Could stress reduction make a difference in people's Alzheimer's risk?

Zucker Hillside's Gordon said more studies are also needed to confirm these results in other groups of people, since this focused on white women. And even if common types of stress are linked to Alzheimer's risk, any effect on an individual could be small.

No one is sure what causes Alzheimer's, but Gordon said it's thought to be a mix of genetic factors, family history and environmental influences.

"This would be only one of many potential factors," Gordon noted.

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