November 5, 2014

Stress and Anxiety Now, Alzheimer's Later

If during midlife you show signs of neuroticism – being worried, anxious, and stressed out… suffering headaches and insomnia – you’re more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD) late in life.

That's the finding from a Swedish study published online last month in the journal Neurology. That study -- which continued over 38 years -- first examined data on 80 participants in the Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Way back in 1968, the women completed the Eysneck Personality Inventory, which takes into account individuals’ fear and anxiety, feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, and depression to determine levels of neuroticism. The test also places personalities along the extroversion / introversion spectrum.

(You can take Eysneck's test yourself to see where you fall by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.)

Longitudinal Study
In 1968 – and again in 1974, 1980, 2000, and 2005 – study leaders also asked the women about the levels of stress they had experienced during the previous five years. Women who reported exceptionally high stress levels were placed into a special “distressed” category.

While the connection between being neurotic in midlife and developing late-life AD became apparent, that link was especially powerful among those women who reported ongoing stress in their lives.

According to the report, “It is possible that neuroticism makes the individual more vulnerable to stressors and distress, which leads to later development of dementia.”

The study team offered several possible reasons for this association between neuroticism and AD: “Personality may influence the individual’s risk of dementia through its effect on behavior and lifestyle.” The authors also note that neurotic people may be more prone to obesity and alcohol abuse... conditions which may affect one's vulnerability to dementia later in life.

Again with the Neurofibrillary Tangles
Research team leader Lena Johansson reported that neuroticism has been linked with changes to the brain, including an "increased amount of neurofibrillary tangles" ... like amyloid plaque accumulation, a key marker for Alzheimer’s.

The report's conclusion might motivate people plagued by neurotic tendencies to seek help – even if personality traits may be difficult to change -- in order to reduce their risk of developing late-life dementia. If meditation, exercise, or yoga don’t help to reduce worry and anxiety, researchers suggest professional therapy.

Said Johansson, “The number of people with dementia disorders is expected to increase dramatically with global aging. It is therefore important to identify risk and protective factors for these disorders.”

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Would you like to learn where you fall in Eysneck's neurotic/stable and extroversion/introversion spectrums? Click here.

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