New scientific research suggests that suffering from stress, anguish or vital exhaustion in middle age can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 25%.
Although it is not yet known what is the origin of this neurodegenerative disease that accounts for 60% to 70% of all cases of dementia worldwide, there are several factors that can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, including age, family history and genetic makeup. Certain health problems, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, can also influence the chances of experiencing dementia, while other factors are linked to early hearing loss, obesity, loneliness or irregular sleep rhythms.
Now, new research conducted in Denmark emphasizes that psychological factors can also affect risk. Particularly the psychological discomfort or vital exhaustion could increase remarkably – up to 25% – the chances of suffering this health problem. The vital exhaustion describes “a mental state of psychological anguish” that manifests itself with symptoms of irritability, fatigue and a feeling of demoralization.
As the study’s researchers explain, vital exhaustion can be a reaction to “problems that can not be resolved” in life, especially when the person has been exposed to stressors for a prolonged period. Directed by Sabrina Islamoska, doctoral candidate in the Department of Public Health of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the team published the results in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The researchers analyzed the data from a survey of almost 7,000 people who participated in the Heart Study of the city of Copenhagen between 1991 and 1994. Participants were, on average, 60 years old at that time and answered questions about their exhaustion vital. Islamoska and his team conducted a clinical follow-up of the participants until the end of 2016, examining the hospital records of the participants and the prescription and mortality registries in search of dementia diagnoses.
The study revealed a link between vital exhaustion in middle age and the development of Alzheimer‘s disease later on. The lead author reports:
“For each additional symptom of life exhaustion, we found that the risk of dementia increased by 2%. Participants who reported five to nine symptoms had a risk of dementia 25% higher than those without symptoms, while those who reported 10 to 17 symptoms had a 40% greater risk of dementia, compared to having no symptoms “, Continues Islamoska.
The authors explain that it is unlikely that the results are due to an inverse cause, that is, it is unlikely that dementia causes a vital exhaustion, and not the other way around. “We were especially worried if the symptoms of vital exhaustion would be an early sign of dementia. However, we found an association of the same magnitude, even when separating the notification of vital exhaustion and diagnoses of dementia with up to 20 years “, explains Islamoska.
With regard to the possible mechanisms that may support the findings, the researchers point to excessive levels of the stress hormone cortisol and cardiovascular changes as possible culprits. The researchers stressed that stress can have serious and harmful consequences, not only for the health of our brain, but also for the rest of the body.