Published: Mon, July 17, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

Stressful life experiences 'can age brain by years'

Stressful life experiences 'can age brain by years'

Those taking part were aged 58 on average and included 1,232 whites and 82 African Americans.

The team from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health examined data for 1,320 people who reported stressful experiences over their lifetime and underwent neuropsychological tests.

Experts led by a team from Wisconsin University's school of medicine and public health in the United States found that even one major stressful event early in life may have an impact on later brain health. They then tested cognitive performance - how the brain functions in memory, verbal and learning tests - and found people from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods had markedly worse performance across all areas.

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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.

A new group of studies into racial disparities among people with Alzheimer's disease suggests that social conditions, including the stress of poverty and racism, substantially raise the risks of dementia for African-Americans.

Findings of new studies that looked at racial disparities in patients with Alzheimer's disease have found evidence suggesting that social conditions such as stress of poverty and racism can increase risk of dementia in African Americans. The group who experienced problems with their hearing were more likely to score significantly lower on cognitive tests and were roughly three times as likely to be assessed as having mild cognitive impairment. Dr Dean Hartley, of the US-based Alzheimer's Association, said: 'It is not only things like good schools, nutrition and exercise programmes [in wealthier areas], it is not having that daily stress that disadvantaged areas bring, like when you're going off to school wondering "will I eat today?", "do I have to worry about my little brother or sister?", or the stress of not having a job or not being able to put food on the table'.

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"These findings support the need for targeted interventions, whether preventive or service-driven, to help address the gaps we know exist - and for more research", says Carrillo.

"Studying the role of stress is complex".

"African Americans born around 1928 were likely exposed to harsher early life conditions that may have increased their risk of dementia later in life", said University of California researcher Paola Gilsanz.

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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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