How Midlife Stress Could Play A Role In Development Of Dementia Later In Life

Researchers at UT Health San Antonio found that high cortisol levels in people in their 40s and 50s – especially those caring for children and aging parents at the same time – didn’t perform as well on memory tests.

By Bonnie PetrieNovember 26, 2018 10:20 am, , ,

From Texas Public Radio:

Middle age can be a stressful time for many people, and now scientists are finding that the stress may lead to problems later in life. A new study links higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, in people in their 40s and 50s, with poorer performance on memory and other cognitive tasks, as well as with smaller brain volume.

UT Health San Antonio neurologist Sudha Seshadri is a senior author of the study. She says while the brain changes they found are small, that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant.

“We know such small changes in midlife predict the risk of developing dementia later in life,” Seshadri says.

Seshadri says she knows stress is a fact of life, particularly for those in the “sandwich” generation who are often caring for aging parents and young children at the same time. So, while she advises people to reduce stress whenever possible, she also says physical activity can help moderate the body’s hormone response to stress – and every little bit helps.

“Don’t give up if you can’t do half an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise three times a week. Any little bit you can do seems to help on the brain, and now on cardiovascular risk,” Seshadri says.

She says our society, at large, could also do better to help people dealing with midlife stress.

“For instance, for us in the 40s and 50s sandwich generation, if we had better systems in place to look after our older generation and our younger generation, ranging from daycare to respite care for people with dementia, that would reduce stress on us,” Seshadri says.

Seshadri says stronger support systems between individuals and among larger communities could have long-term benefits for everyone.

“It’s not just to help people who are suffering now, but to reduce the tsunami in the next generation,” Seshadri says.

The study was published this fall in the medical journal Neurology.