Stressful experiences 'can age the brain by four years'

Kim Mueller left administers a test to Alan Sweet where he describes an illustration as part of a University of Wisconsin Madison study on dementia

Still, these results suggest that people shouldn't just brush off mild cognitive problems, especially when they are noticed by others or start to interfere with life quality. According to NPR, four studies presented at an global conference in London Sunday all presented evidence linking poverty, disadvantage, and stressful life events to cognitive issues among aging African Americans. It is already known that living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood increases risk of diabetes, cancer and early death, but it is the first to link poor areas with dementia.

"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", Dr. Dean Hartley, of the US -based Alzheimer's Association, added of the reasoning behind the results.

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.

During the period that the research focused on ‒ between 1964 and 1973 ‒ the infant mortality rate of black people was almost twice as high as that of whites.

Researchers had people describe a picture they were shown in taped sessions two years apart. They also had an 80 per cent higher risk compared to Caucasians not from those states, another study out of northern California concluded.

"For a racially diverse nation like the United States, and to address Alzheimer's and dementia on a global scale, 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."

"This study provides evidence to suggest that living in a neighborhood challenged by poverty, low education, unemployment, and/or substandard housing may increase risk of Alzheimer's disease, and may account for some of the observed differences in Alzheimer's disease risk among people of different racial backgrounds and income levels", said lead researcher Dr Amy Kind.

Stress in this study was defined as a sense of irritation, tension, nervousness, anxiety, fear or sleeping problems that last a month or more due to either work, health, family or other such problems.

Other research has suggested there are plausible links between stress and chronic inflammation, which in turn may accelerate the development of dementia.

Experiencing just one of the stressful life events was equivalent to four years of cognitive ageing, meaning that a 66-year-old would have the mental capacity of someone who was 70.

Every year 25,000 new cases of dementia are diagnosed.

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