Middle aged, neurotic, easily stressed women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life, according to a new study published in Neurology, the journal of the the American Academy of Neurology.
“Most Alzheimer’s research has been devoted to factors such as education, heart and blood risk factors, head trauma, family history and genetics, said study author Lena Johannsson, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden. “Our study suggests that midlife neuroticism is associated with increased risk of AD (Alzheimer’s disease) dementia, and that distress mediates this association.”
In Alzheimer’s disease, the brain cells themselves degenerate and die, causing a steady decline in memory and mental function. More than five million American’s have AD and it is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050.
Researchers tracked the memories and behaviors of 800 women over a 38 year period. The women were given personality tests six times over the years to measure their level of neuroticism, extraversion or introversion. Of the 19 percent of the study participants who developed dementia, a total of 104 of those women were eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
To measure their levels of neuroticism, the women took tests that measured a series of traits, from anxiety and low self-esteem to sleeping issues and recurring stomachaches. The women were also asked if they experienced any period of stress that lasted one month or longer in their work, health, or family situation.
The researchers found that women who scored highest on the tests for neuroticism had double the risk of developing dementia. But the key to advancing to Alzheimer’s was the level of stress. In the study, 25 percent of the women who were introverted and easily distressed were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, compared to just 13 percent of women with outgoing personalities and less prone to stress.
This study may “take AD beyond the single-disorder paradigm,” says Robert Stewart, MD, of King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry. “People who are more exposed or more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life may also be less likely to “age well,” whether this is measured by mortality, cardiovascular disease, AD, or other aging-related outcomes.”