Study: Stressful Events Age Brain Up To 4 Years

Researchers have identified 27 life events they believe can age our brains by four years, as well as increase our risk of dementia.

Parenting is hard. We know this, and there’s no use in denying it because that just leaves many moms and dads feeling isolated and alone. Stress just comes with the job of parenting, it seems, as we are always worrying about something to do with our children or families. Stressful events happen.

Now researchers from the University of Wisconsin have found that certain stressful situations seem to take their tolls on our brains and bodies more than others, and can age our brains faster and put as at greater risk of dementia.

The researchers believe their list of 27 situations are so upsetting to humans, and they put such severe strain on our bodies that they cause long-term health problems that include early onset dementia.

Researchers asked 1,320 people in the United States to take part in memory and problem-solving activities so they could rate mental ability. The participants were in their 50s and 60s, and also surveyed about lifetime stress events.

The researchers found the results showed a strong correlation between lifetime stress events and poorer cognitive ability later in life. In fact, they concluded that just one stressful event earlier in their lives could be equal to physical aging four years faster than would be expected. They also found greater disparity in the amount of ‘cognitive aging’ when comparing white/caucasian Americans to African Americans.


Research has already shown that people who live in poorer neighborhoods have higher risks of diabetes, cancers and early deaths, but a second follow-up study done by the University of Wisconsin is the first study to show a correlation between living in poorer areas and dementia. The researchers believe this is because people in lower socioeconomic groups have more difficulty eating healthy foods and exercising, and they are often exposed to more pollution and stress.

According to Dr. Amy Kind with the University of Wisconsin, living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, or in areas with low education and employment may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Doug Brown with the Alzheimer’s Society says that we know prolonged stress impacts our health, but proving the stressful conditions’ specific impact is hard because it’s difficult to separate stress from other underlying conditions like depression and anxiety, which have also been shown to possibly put one at risk for dementia.

This research also showed a significant disparity in the difference between dementia risk for white Americans and African Americans, as white Americans additional aging based on life stressors was about a year to a year and a half, while African Americans typically experienced up to four years of additional cognitive aging.

Dr. Brown believes this study shows that more support for people in difficult life situations may help manage possible risks.

The study’s main focus was on specific life events, such as losing one’s job, moving or joining the Armed services for adults and being expelled from school, or having parents who abused drugs and alcohol for children.

All of those events seemed to have negative consequences later in life, with the experience of just one of those situations aging one’s brain cognitively by four years. The researchers do note that that experience is most likely cumulative, with the experience of more events in life having a greater impact, and therefore, probably damage — which leads to greater dementia risk.

The research was presented at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, as were the 27 life events researchers believe could do damage to your brain. Some of those include the death of a child, sexual assault, going on welfare, losing one’s job, a spouse/partner having an affair, and even significant difficulties with in-laws.

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