According to new research, anxious and easily-stressed women are more prone to developing Alzheimer's disease later in life. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. So far, there is no known cure; and this debilitating condition worsens as it progresses, eventually leading to death. Most often diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, a variant known as early-onset Alzheimer's can occur much earlier. Alzheimer's is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050.
Although Alzheimer's can develop differently for every individual, there are many common symptoms. In the early stages, the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events, known as short-term memory loss. As the disease advances, symptoms can include confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings, trouble with language, and long-term memory loss. As the person's condition gets worse, they typically withdraw from family and from society. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, leading to death.
Alzheimer’s develops for an unknown, variable amount of time before becoming fully visible. On average, life expectancy following diagnosis is seven years. Fewer than 3% of individuals live more than 14 years after diagnosis.
After following 800 women for nearly four decades, researchers in the present study report that certain personality types appear to be at higher risk for Alzheimer’s. Middle-aged women with an average age of 46 years were given a battery of personality tests and asked to note any periods of prolonged stress longer than one month. Specifically, researchers looked at how outgoing or withdrawn participants were; and also if they were easily distressed, prone to worrying and jealousy, and if they showed signs of neuroticism.
Over the course of the study, 19 percent of the women developed dementia. Women who scored high for neuroticism were twice as likely to develop the disease relative to their low-stress counterparts. Withdrawn women with high stress scores were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as outgoing and less stressed women.
Personality may influence the individual's risk for dementia through its effect on behavior, lifestyle or reactions to stress. For example, researchers say people who are less neurotic are more likely to have more active lifestyles, typically leading to better metabolic function and cardiovascular health.
On the other hand, neurotic personality types are more prone to having damage to their brain's memory center due to the harmful effects of chronic stress. Health experts believe Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of lifestyle factors, genetics and environment. Some research has suggested that chronic stress may be a contributing factor.
Promisingly, studies show that stress-busting activities such as yoga, tai chi and meditation can help to slow the progression of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.