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Brett Arends’s ROI: People with chronic stress and depression are 4 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s

More than six times as many Americans are dying of dementia now as have died with COVID during the entire pandemic, and the numbers are increasing every day.

But we know more about what causes this cruel and horrific disease than we may sometimes realize.

For instance, yet another massive study has just been published that shows extraordinary links between poor mental and emotional health earlier in life and our chances of getting Alzheimer’s and other dementias later.

People ages 18 to 65 who had chronic stress were 90% as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment and 150% as likely to develop full-blown dementia as those who didn’t have such stress, researchers found. The numbers for people with depression were similar: They were 130% as likely to develop dementia, and 185% as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, as people who were not depressed.

Most remarkably, the study found that the two factors work together to create a lethal combination. People with chronic stress and depression were 300% as likely to develop dementia or cognitive impairment as those who had neither of those risk factors.

Four times as likely.

This was based on a study of 1.4 million people in Sweden conducted by Stockholm’s prestigious Karolinska Institute and published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.

This study is not an isolated one. Just a few months ago, a study by the University of Pennsylvania and Aarhus University in Denmark found something similar: After looking at more than four decades’ worth of data involving 1.4 million Danish citizens, researchers found that those with depression earlier in life were more than twice as likely as their peers to end up developing dementia.

These findings add to a growing body medical evidence linking depression and subsequent dementia.

This is critical and powerful news about a disease that is devastating not only for its victims but also for everyone who knows them, and for society as a whole, and that is getting much worse as society ages. According to one estimate, the number of Americans with dementia may double by 2050 to nearly 13 million. The annual costs may hit $1.5 trillion.

If there is one usable takeaway, it is that fighting the dementia pandemic may be even more about mental health than physical health: Friends more than pharmaceuticals, meditation more than medication. 

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