New York: Stressful life experiences such as divorce, death of a loved one or job loss may lead to a greater memory decline and raise the risk of Alzheimer's disease among the middle-aged women, says a new study.
The study's findings, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry journal, showed that stress hormones play an uneven gender role in brain health and align with well-documented higher rates of Alzheimer's disease in women than men.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, one in 6 women over age 60 will get Alzheimer's disease, compared with 1 in 11 men. At present, there are no proven treatments that prevent or halt progression of the disease.
"We can't get rid of stressors, but we might adjust the way we respond to the stress, and have a real effect on brain function as we age," said Cynthia Munro, Professor at Johns Hopkins University, US.
"Although our study did not show the same for men, it sheds further light on the effects of the stress response on the brain with potential application to both men and women," she added.
For the study, Munro and her team used data collected on over 900 participants, 63 per cent of the participants were women. Participants were of an average age of 47.
The researchers suggested that the ongoing stress may have more of a negative impact on brain functioning than distinct traumatic events.
"A normal stress response causes a temporary increase in stress hormones like cortisol, and when it's over, levels return to baseline and you recover. But with repeated stress, or with enhanced sensitivity to stress, your body mounts an increased and sustained hormone response that takes longer to recover," said Munro.
"We know if stress hormone levels increase and remain high, this isn't good for the brain's hippocampus -- the seat of memory," Munro added.
The researchers say that stress reduction has not received a whole lot of attention compared with other factors that may contribute to dementia or Alzheimer's, and that it might be worth exploring the stress management techniques as a way to delay or prevent disease.