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Posted: August 24, 2010

Stressed in Midlife? Alzheimer's Risk Doubled in Women

The toll from repeated stress and anxiety in mid-life can extract a staggering cost on older women who, researchers say, are nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those with less stress in their middle years.

The conclusion is drawn from testing by Swedish scientists who measured stress as a "sense of irritation, tension, nervousness, anxiety, fear or sleeping problems" lasting for at least a month. The chances of developing dementia increased as women responded to more than one survey by saying they were frequently stressed.


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Researchers tracked 1,415 women between the ages of 38-60 from 1968 to 2000. They found that 65% had a higher risk of dementia than those without regular stress. In all, 161 of the women taking part had developed dementia, and most of those affected by dementia were diagnosed with Alzheimer's, which is the most common form.


The risk increased by 73% when women reported frequent or constant stress on two occasions, and it more than doubled when all three surveys showed they were stressed.

While the findings, which were published in the journal Brain, drew an association between repeated stress and dementia, researcher Lena Johansson, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, cautioned against concluding an ironclad link between the two without more research.

"Most of those who said that they were stressed did not develop dementia, so it's not currently possible to advise people to be less stressed or warn about the dangers of high stress levels due to an increased risk of developing dementia,” Johansson noted.

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