One of the studies, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, found that a single major stressful event early life is equal to four years of cognitive aging.
A series of neuropsychological tests examined several areas, including four memory scores [immediate memory, verbal learning and memory, visual learning and memory, and story recall]. Additionally, they found that, on average, African Americans experience 60% more stressful events than non-Hispanic whites over the course of a lifetime.
Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "We know that prolonged stress can have an impact on our health, so it's no surprise that this study indicates stressful life events may also affect our memory and thinking abilities later in life".
The new research, presented at a conference in London on Sunday, looks at how stress and dementia are related, with the results helping account for higher incidents of such degenerative diseases among African Americans in the USA, who are nearly twice as likely to suffer from the disease over the age of 65. The results showed that a larger number of stressful events was linked to poorer cognitive function in later life.
Stressful life experiences included things such as losing a job, the death of a child, divorce or growing up with a parent, who abused alcohol or drugs.
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Those who had more such problems scored worse on cognitive tests, scientists told the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London yesterday.
"These studies were done with United States data, but they add weight to the global body of evidence around disadvantage and dementia risk, which is an issue governments around the world grapple with, and one that requires coordinated action", said Alzheimer's Association chief scientist Maria Carrillo. She said that even a change of school could be regarded as a stressful life event for some children. But experts believe that a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet can help mitigate this risk, even for those people going through stressful events.
"However, the findings do indicate that more should be done to support people from disadvantaged communities that are more likely to experience stressful life events".
He said it was important to establish the role that stress and stressful life events play, adding: "To unravel this, more research is needed over a longer time scale".
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