Does Stress Cause Dementia?

In this article look into historic studies linking occupational stress and dementia. Dementia is a genetic brain disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as an example, is said to affect ‘at least half of the US population’, according to Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School.

 ‘We learned that stress is a killer from an important study on civil servants carried out in the UK more than half a century ago.’[i] This was the conclusion of two studies carried out by University College London, known as the ‘Whitehall Studies’.

The first began in 1967 and consisted of 18,000 civil servants, all of whom were male, over a ten year period. The second study was undertaken in 1985 and confirmed the results of the first study, which found associations between the grade of job and ‘mortality rates from a range of causes’.

The second study confirmed that men in the lower grade of work had a one three times higher mortality rate than those in a higher grade of work. It was said that ‘despite this association – that stressful jobs kill people – the mechanism of how stress causes lethal disease remained elusive.

More recently studies with rats have shown ‘how stress reduces the growth of neurons and its branches. Like a tree that does not get watered, the brain withers. With a withered brain you are more likely to experience dementia if the few remaining neurons are infected or damaged. We can see how stress can cause dementia, but not all dementia is caused by stress.’[ii]


[i] Mario Garrett ‘Does stress cause dementia’ (January 2018 Times of Malta) accessed 21 February 2018.

[ii] Ibid.