Stressful events in life, including divorce or the death of a parent, can age the brain by several years, new research suggests.
Experts in the United States found that even just one major stressful event early in life may have an impact on later brain health.
The team examined a sample of 1,320 people who reported stressful experiences over their life time and underwent tests of thinking and memory. According to NPR, four studies presented at an global conference in London Sunday all presented evidence linking poverty, disadvantage, and stressful life events to cognitive issues among aging African Americans.
And a third study of almost 1,500 people by another group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin found "markedly worse" cognitive performance, based on tasks such as verbal learning, immediate memory and speed and flexibility of cognition, in people from the most disadvantages neighbourhoods.
Dr Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer's Association, said: "The stressful events that the researchers were focusing on were a large variety ... the death of a parent, abuse, loss of a job, loss of a home... poverty, living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood, divorce".
When looking specifically at African Americans, the team found they experienced over 60 per cent more stressful events than white people during their lifetimes.
The Alzheimer's Association International Conference takes place each year to gather top researchers and doctors from around the world to share their latest research, theories, and discoveries in hopes of finding a cure or treatment.
"These studies were done with United States data, but they add weight to the global body of evidence around disadvantage and dementia risk, which is an issue governments around the world grapple with, and one that requires coordinated action", said Alzheimer's Association chief scientist Maria Carrillo.
Even a change of school could be regarded as a stressful life event for some children, she said.
Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "We know that prolonged stress can have an impact on our health, so it's no surprise that this study indicates stressful life events may also affect our memory and thinking abilities later in life".
But he said it had not been established whether stressful life events can increase the risk of dementia.
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