Alzheimer’s Disease scares me. It terrifies me. A lot. I recently learned about a link between developing this sad and horrific disease and experiencing prolonged psychological stress in middle age for women. Read on to find out if you are also at risk and what you can do about it to help safeguard your brain for the future.
I am a middle-aged woman and I have many friends and people in my life who are middle-aged women and moms; so this topic is super important to me. Friends, we need to reduce our stress levels and keep our brains healthy not only for every day but for our futures. We can’t control the catastrophic stresses that may land into our lives, but we can try and reduce our stress levels daily. We have some control in this way.
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Talking about this disease and researching it is important to me because it affects me personally. I have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease so learning as much about the disease and the potential prevention of it is very important to me. I am trained as a registered nurse so as part of the renewal of my license, I watched several webinars. One of the webinar topics was about dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. One study found that stress may contribute to being diagnosed with these diseases for women who suffer from repeated stressful periods during middle age.
This link between developing the disease and stress freaks me out, so I’m writing about it–talking about it. I hope all you women are listening. Your own health is the BEST reason for self-care.
Did you know that women are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than breast cancer in their sixties?
The Research About the Link Between Stress and Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease
I read about the research study that found psychological stress experienced in middle age could lead to an increased risk of developing dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, later in life for women. Mamas, that’s scary. That’s damn scary. Like effing scary and I don’t like it. But, I’m glad I know about this so I can maybe do something about it.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease? It’s a neurodegenerative disease characterized by memory loss, cognitive deficits, and behavioral changes; a disease that is diagnosed by a doctor.
Who did this research?
The research I am referring to in this article was done at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and published in the journal called Brain. See the end of this article for a link to this research article and information.
Who participated in this study?
The study followed a large group of women (over 1,000) ages 38-60 over a span of thirty-five years. They were questioned during those thirty-five years on five different time intervals about stress levels (participants rated stress on their own based on a scale).
What the research found:
The research found the risk of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s Disease, was 65% higher in women with repeated stressful periods in middle age. The risk of developing this disease was increased by stress that was frequent/constant or chronic experienced for one month or longer (see link below for full description of study definition of stress–see the psychological stress section). Sleeping problems from stress, anxiety, fear, and being nervous were factors included in their definition of stress.
For more information: Read this study from Brain
Researchers have found that stress can damage the brain. Stress causes inflammation in the brain which can make a person more susceptible to dementia and depression.
Researchers also state more research needs to be done on this topic and the causes of this disease.
Why is this Important for Women?
The majority of caregiving done in families is often done by women which can increase stress and anxiety in women and moms overall. Meaning, moms, we are definitely at risk for increased stress.
Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, researchers believe the fact that women tend to live longer contributes to this, but they believe there are other factors too, with stress being one of them.
At the age of 65, women have 1 in 6 chances of developing the disease whereas men have a chance of 1 in 11. Two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women. That is staggering!
Sixty percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers are women putting them at greater risk for stress. Middle-aged women may end up being caregivers for aging parents with Alzheimer’s disease while still raising their own children who are under eighteen. I’ve seen this called the “Sandwich generation” and it’s loaded with stress. It is estimated that 10 million women care for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.
In the United States, Alzheimer’s Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in adults. It is estimated that by 2050 there could be 14 million Americans with Alzheimer’s Disease (as of now there are 5 million).
Women need to be thinking about and taking action to improve brain health and overall health.
Just So You are Aware…the Risk Factors for Developing Alzheimer’s include:
These risk factors are in no particular order.
- genetic predisposition, a specific gene has been identified making certain people with the given gene more susceptible, though having the gene hasn’t been found to indicate the person will for sure develop the disease
- diseases like obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, & autoimmune disease (and more)
- being a woman
- prolonged psychological stress could contribute (could be related to divorce, the death of a loved one/spouse/child, illness, war, dealing with a natural disaster, losing a job, dealing with illness, financial hardships and more)
- having a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s disease
- suffering from depression
I noticed a few mentions of the perception of stress as perhaps playing a role as well. This brings me to tell all you mamas out there, do your self-care actions whatever they might be! Take the time for yourself. We can’t help what disasters will fall into our laps, but we can take time for ourselves, even when it’s super hard, just do it. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, it will help.
Self-Care is SO Important!
Self-care seems to be a hot topic these days and for good reason. We all want to enjoy our lives and when we practice self-care we get more enjoyment out of life. Plus, reducing stress can help us be more healthy women and mothers.
Stress in my Own Life as a Middle-aged Woman and Mom:
I am clearly at risk for developing this disease and I need to pay attention to how I handle stress reduction in my own life. As I scroll down the list of risk factors, I’m in them. I need to take action.
I find self-care reduces stress and helps me better deal with the next stressor, which is sure to come my way any moment as a busy mom of three boys. But, after doing my research, I’m finding that there is an even more important reason to practice self-care for myself and that is to help prevent (or guard myself) against the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
It’s rather shocking to me to think about how stress now can affect me later in life. It scares me because I often feel too busy and too stressed to keep up with my own life, my schedule, and my kids’ crazy busy schedules.
What it means is, I need to slow down. I need to take more moments for myself. And I need to do it today. Every day. For the rest of my life. I urge all the crazy busy scrambling middle-aged moms so do the same thing (and younger moms, you too:).
Mom’s Needs INCLUDE Self-Care.
Life is stressful. Of course, we will always have stress because it’s a part of our life. However, we can always do something to help ourselves reduce stress.
Ideas and Tips for Reducing Stress
There are many ways to reduce stress including:
- time with family
- practicing self-care activities
- keeping your brain active by continuing to read and learn
- learn a new language just for fun
- walk outside in no particular rush
- sleep, and get enough of it
- relax with family playing games or watching tv or a movie
- cook (if you enjoy it)
- spend time with pets
- crossword puzzles
- writing or journaling
- guided imagery
- deep breathing
- eat a healthy diet
- have a cup of tea
This is one of my favorite brands of tea.
I hope researchers find more definitive causes of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia and the ability to prevent them, but regardless, practicing stress reduction will improve your health and your life:) Even if further research finds that stress does not have a significant impact on the development of this disease (which I highly doubt), you will benefit from a healthier life with less stress. That’s a win!
Lena Johansson, Xinxin Guo, Margda Waern, Svante Östling, Deborah Gustafson, Calle Bengtsson, Ingmar Skoog; Midlife psychological stress and risk of dementia: a 35-year longitudinal population study, Brain, Volume 133, Issue 8, 1 August 2010, Pages 2217–2224, https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awq116
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