Living in a wealthy area 'decreases risk of dementia'

Henrietta Brewer
July 17, 2017

The loss of a child, divorce, getting fired and other stressful life events can cause the brain to age by at least four years, US researchers have found.

Rates of stress were found to be 60 per cent higher among African Americans and these events predicted cognitive abilities even more than traditional risk factors such as age, education and genetics.

Findings of new studies that looked at racial disparities in patients with Alzheimer's disease have found evidence suggesting that social conditions such as stress of poverty and racism can increase risk of dementia in African Americans.

Stressful life experiences included incidents such as losinga job, the death of a child, divorce or growing up with a parent who abused alcohol or drugs.

The researchers said that each stressful experience was equivalent to approximately four years of cognitive aging in African Americans, compared with one-and-a-half years for whites.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin looked at 1,320 adults with an average age of 58 to study how stressful life events, ranging from serious illness to imprisonment, affected the brain.

In the other two studies, researchers with Kaiser Permanente and the University of California, San Francisco found a higher degree of dementia risk for people born in states with high rates of infant mortality.

Members born in the 10 states with the highest rates of infant mortality for their race were grouped as being born in states with the highest infant mortality rates. African Americans were 40% more likely to develop dementia in these states, while other groups' risk wasn't linked to place of birth.

"Adversity is a clear contributor to racial disparities in cognitive ageing, and further study is imperative", said researcher on the study Megan Zuelsdorff.

Experts have linked factors such as limited access to healthy food, low levels of education and pollution to the health of the brain, noting those who reside in wealthier areas are less at risk of dementia than people living in less well-off locations.

The findings were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London. Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association, says this disadvantage is something governments have been struggling with worldwide and it requires coordinated efforts to address.

"It is hard to separate from other conditions such as anxiety and depression, which are also thought to contribute towards dementia risk".

Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said there could be a number of different factors involved in the link between stress and memory decline.

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