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Distress-prone people more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease

ST. PAUL, MN People who tend to experience psychological distress are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than people who are less prone to experience distress, according to a study published in the December 9 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

In the study, those who most often experience negative emotions like depression and anxiety were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease as those who were least prone to experience negative emotions.

The study was part of a larger study of older Catholic nuns, priests and brothers. In the study, 797 people with an average age of 75 were evaluated when they started the study and then on a yearly basis. Participants were evaluated on their level of proneness to stress with a rating scale that has been proven reliable. Participants rate their level of agreement (strongly disagree, disagree, etc.) with statements such as "I am not a worrier," "I often feel tense and jittery," and "I often get angry at the way people treat me."

"People differ in their tendency to experience psychological distress, and this is a stable personality trait throughout adulthood," said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Ill. "Since chronic stress has been associated with changes in the hippocampal area of the brain and problems with learning and memory, we wanted to test the theory that psychological distress may affect the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease."

Wilson said the findings are important because evidence has shown that many of the adverse effects of stress on the brain can be blocked by drugs, including antidepressants. "But much more research is needed before we can determine whether the use of antidepressants could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease," he said.

During an average of 4.9 years of follow-up, 140 people in the study developed Alzheimer's disease. Those high in proneness
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Contact: Marilee Reu
mreu@aan.com
651-695-2789
American Academy of Neurology
8-Dec-2003


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