Research into link between stress and dementia gets under way
British scientists are currently trying to establish whether stress in day-to-day life can trigger dementia later on.
An investigation which is being funded by the Alzheimer's Society will look at 140 people suffering from mild cognitive impairment (as known as pre-dementia) to see if stress impacts on their condition in any way.
The study will involve taking blood and saliva samples every six months for a period of 18 months and then measuring this against biological stress markers.
It is hoped that the findings of the study will allow them to come up with ways in which dementia can either be lessened or prevented in its entirety.
People who have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment are at an increased risk of developing full dementia – although in some cases they do remain stable or even see their condition improve.
The decision to start the study comes after previous work hinted at the possibility of stress in mid-life acting as a trigger for person suffering Alzheimer's disease.
A study conducted in Sweden looked at almost 1,500 women over a 35 year period and found that those which had suffered repeated periods of stress in middle age were 65 per cent more likely to develop dementia than those which had lived almost carefree.
Prof Clive Holmes, from the University of Southampton, who will lead the study, said: "All of us go through stressful events. We are looking to understand how these may become a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer's.
"Something such as bereavement or a traumatic experience - possibly even moving home - are also potential factors.
"This is the first stage in developing ways in which to intervene with psychological or drug-based treatments to fight the disease.
"We are looking at two aspects of stress relief - physical and psychological - and the body's response to that experience."
Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "We welcome any research that could shed new light on Alzheimer's disease and other causes of dementia. Understanding the risk factors for Alzheimer's could provide one piece of the puzzle we need to take us closer to a treatment that could stop the disease in its tracks."
According to the American Institute of Stress, the most common causes of stress are childhood trauma, death of a loved one, divorce, issues with finances, job problems such as redundancy, health and relationship issues.
Statistics from the Alzheimer's Society show that there are more than 800,000 people suffering from dementia in the UK at present and, despite the condition largely being linked to older people, 17,000 of that number are persons who are considered young.
Alarmingly, the number of people struggling with the condition is expected to have risen past the one million mark by 2021.
However, the real number of sufferers is likely to be even higher than that as previous work as part of the Alzheimer's Society's dementia map estimated that only 43 per cent of people with the condition are ever diagnosed during their lifetime.
Earlier this month, scientists in the United States identified a link between diabetes and dementia.