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10/01/2014 04:00 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

Anxiety And Worrying Linked To Higher Alzheimer's Risk

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Bad news, worrywarts. But try not to stress too much over this one. New research says anxious, easily-stressed women are more prone to developing Alzheimer's later in life.

After following 800 women for nearly four decades, researchers say certain personality dispositions can put you at risk for the memory-robbing disease. Middle-aged women with an average age of 46 were given a battery of personality tests and asked to make note of any periods of prolonged stress longer than one month to determine certain traits and tendencies. Researchers looked at how outgoing or withdrawn participants were, if they were easily distressed, prone to worrying and jealousy, and if they showed signs of neuroticism.

Over the course of the study, 19 percent of women developed dementia. But women who scored high for neuroticism were twice as likely to develop the disease than their low-stress counterparts. Withdrawn women with high stress scores were twice as likely as outgoing and less distressed women to develop Alzheimer's.

But the Swedish study's authors chalk it up to more than just personality. "Personality may influence the individual's risk for dementia through its effect on behavior, lifestyle or reactions to stress," study author Lena Johannsson of the University of Gothenburg explained in a release.

For example, researchers say people who are less neurotic are more likely to have more active lifestyles, meaning better metabolic function and cardiovascular health. Meanwhile, neurotic types are more prone to having tangles in the brain and damage to the brain's memory center due to stress.

It's not known exactly what brings on the disease, but experts believe it to be a combination of lifestyle factors, genetics, and environment. Other research has also suggested stress could be a contributing factor. A 2013 study suggested that stress steroids in the brain can impair memory and increase the amount of plaque-building proteins. And taking a different approach, another study found that stress-busting yoga and meditation can even slow the progression of dementia.

Just another reason to stress a little less.

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