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Study: Elevated stress might be tied to increased dementia risk

October 2, 2013

Stress can have a significant impact on healthy aging. For centuries, experts have recognized the link between experiencing chronic stress and developing heart disease, according to The American Institute of Stress. A new study from Sweden's University of Gothenburg sheds light on another danger. Researchers believe that high levels of stress during mid-life could lead to a greater risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease late in life.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, was based on an analysis of more than 40 years worth of data. Researchers followed more than 800 women over the course of their lives. Participants were asked about the psychological impact of common stress-causing incidents. During follow-up visits the team looked for common symptoms of distress. By the end of the study, researchers found that more than 150 of the participants had developed dementia. Those who had higher levels of stress were about 15 percent more likely to have dementia. Although there exists a strong relationship, experts say more research is necessary to confirm the connection.

"From this study, it is hard to know whether stress contributes directly to the development of dementia, whether it is purely an indicator of another underlying risk in this population of women, or whether the link is due to any entirely different factor," Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research U.K., told Bloomberg.

Regardless of whether stress plays a factor in the development of Alzheimer's, its management is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors. There are many ways for older adults to keep their stress levels low. Exercise is one of the best methods, and it doesn't matter if it is in the form of yoga, swimming or cycling, the Stress Management Society notes.