Going through a divorce can age the brain by as much as four years and increase the risk of dementia.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin have suggested that the end of a marriage, the loss of a parent or being fired from a job can have a long-term impact on a person’s health. The team collected data from 1,320 adults on how stressful life events affected the brain. The average age of those who participated was 58 years old.
Each adult was given a series of tests to measure how well they took in and retained information. Those who had experienced more stressful events in their life – such as divorce – fared noticeably worse in these tests than those who had been through fewer of such hardships.
Lead researcher Megan Zuelsdorrff said the results indicated that “adverse events across the lifespan predict cognitive function more strongly than established risk factors”. These included a person’s age, level of education and if they carried the “Alzheimer’s risk gene”.
The results of this study were presented to the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held in London over the weekend.
Carol Routledge is the Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK. She explained that stressful experiences “can turn our lives upside down for a time and though most people can eventually return to an even keel, we can’t be sure how psychological stress could impact the workings of the brain over time”.
Those who study dementia and other similar conditions are beginning to realize that “events and experiences throughout life can impact the brain decades later” she continued, and called on researchers to “take a whole life-span approach to understanding brain health in later life”.
This story was originally published on Marilyn Stowe‘s blog.