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Is Dementia Risk Higher When it Relates to Psychological Distress?

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September 18, 2023 •  Emily Hicks Law, PLLC
Dementia risk was higher in people who had signs of psychological distress earlier in life, a cohort study in Finland found.

A new study found that in more than 67,000 people with an average age of 45, self-reported distress symptoms were associated with a 17% to 24% increased risk of dementia over a 25-year follow-up period. The research was conducted by Sonja Sulkava MD, PhD, of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, and co-authors.

MedPage Today’s recent article entitled “Dementia Risk Higher in People With Earlier Signs of Psychological Distress” says these self-reported symptoms were linked to an 8% to 12% increase in lifetime dementia after accounting for the competing risk of death, which was more common than dementia over time.

"Our study suggests symptoms of psychological distress like exhaustion, depressive mood, and the experience of stress are risk factors for dementia, and not only prodromal symptoms of underlying dementia disorder," Sulkava told MedPage Today.

"Previous studies have shown an association between symptoms of psychological distress and dementia, but the nature of the association is still unclear," Sulkava wrote. "We clarified that connection using a large population data set with 10 to 45 years of follow-up and careful modeling of death for other causes."

The study used data from 67,688 people who completed National FINRISK Study surveys between 1972 and 2007. Participants self-reported symptoms of psychological distress in the prior month, including whether they experienced stress more than other people and if they experienced depressive mood, exhaustion and nervousness often, sometimes, or never.

The study was linked to the Finnish Health Register for dementia and mortality data. Notable symptoms included stress and exhaustion.

Over follow-ups of about 25 years, 7,935 participants received a diagnosis of dementia. The competing risk of death was more common, occurring in 19,647 people. Exhaustion was linked with subsequent all-cause dementia

The study of psychological distress and brain health is "far from being incisive," said Yoram Barak, MD, MHA, psychiatrist of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

This "sophisticated analysis" adds "an important facet to the field by accounting for competing risk of death." He went on to say that this should become a standard when researching these questions.

Reference: MedPage Today (Dec. 16, 2022) “Dementia Risk Higher in People With Earlier Signs of Psychological Distress”

Suggested Key Terms: Dementia, Senior Health

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