Mid-life Crisis – the problem may be worse than a new car

Not many women actually have a mid-life crisis. Instead we get peri-menopause and later the joys of menopause – hot flashes, irregular periods, night sweats, insomnia, hair growing in weird places but not on your head, mid-life acne etc. Even though we usually don’t have a mid-life crisis ourselves, chances are at one time or another there is a “crisis” of a mid-life crisis with the man in your life. This condition usually manifests itself at 40, or sometimes at 50 or even better, both times.

The mid-life crisis is nature’s way of letting a man say “I don’t really want to be grown up so I think I’ll go by a shiny new car.” If you live in the South – you may get a shiny new bright red diesel 4-door dually truck in your driveway.

It turns out that the stress that is experienced in “mid-life” can actually increase your risk for getting dementia later in life. Great – my husband gets a new car and I get menopause and Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress, whether physical or mental causes “stress hormones” to be released. Initially, this group of hormones is meant to protect your body from inflammation and damage but over a long period of time, it can actually turn on you and cause inflammation which can result in permanent damage to some of your cells and organs – including the brain.

The main stress hormone is cortisol which is related to the hydrocortisone cream that you put on an insect bite or the methylprednisolone “dosepak” that you take after a lung infection. These short term medications act to decrease inflammation and allow the body to heal more quickly but when used long term can decrease your immune functions and cause a whole host of other problems.

A study, published in Alzheimers Dementia journal, oddly enough followed over 1400 women in Sweden for 32 years and about 800 of them for 40 years. They found that stress or trauma that is experienced in mid-life (i.e. 40’s and 50’s) can have long lasting effects. The stress hormones produced at this time, can stay at high levels long after the event and can cause permanent structural changes to the brain which reduces the brain’s ability to function.

This would be known as functional brain “damage” which can manifest as dementia.

To be fair – it isn’t just your mate’s mid-life crisis that causes the increased risk of dementia and theoretically it can also happen to men. Stress can really result from negative experiences such as divorce, death, job loss, natural disasters, personal trauma etc. But it can also result from neutral or even good events like a new child or grandchild, a new house, a new job etc.

There have actually been several studies that examined the effect of severe stress like combat and the Holocaust which showed that health, both mental and physical were affected years later. But up until the release of the study “Prospective Population Study of Women” conducted by the University of Gothenburg, Sweden which looked at women over a 40 year period starting in 1968 we didn’t know about how “normal” stress affected us. The results showed that even more common day-to-day stress, including things that we don’t think are “stressful” such as the positive experiences of life or the “little” things such as the fact that all your appliances, sheets and towels seem to wear out at one time can actually have long term effects.

The study showed that when women reported more stressors (including common psychosocial issues), they had over a 20% increased risk of Alzheimer’s and a 15% higher risk of other types of dementia. The same can most likely be said for men, though men sometimes handle stress differently (like by going to buy a new car).

In the end what this all means is don’t take yourself too seriously, you might actually lose your mind (though it might take about 29 years).