Is Stress an Overlooked Risk Factor for Dementia? A Systematic Review from a Lifespan Developmental Perspective

Jing Luo*, Christopher R. Beam, Margaret Gatz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Stress exposure and stress reactivity may be potent factors associated with increased risk of dementia. The 2017 Lancet Commission on Dementia and its 2020 update reviewed modifiable risk factors associated with dementia, but stress was not addressed directly. The present study provides a focused review of the association between stress and dementia across the lifespan, with measures of stress including stress exposure, psychological stress, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and biological markers of stress. Published research articles were identified in the American Psychological Association PsycINFO database (1887–2021), Web of Science database, and Google Scholar. A total of 53 samples from 40 studies published from 1985 to 2020 met inclusion criteria. Results suggest that stressful life events that occur earlier in the lifespan, such as loss of a parent, psychological stress experienced in midlife, and extreme stress responses, i.e., PTSD, correlate with higher risk of dementia. Although results generally are mixed, a consistent theme is that stress experienced earlier in the lifespan and chronic stress portend the greatest risk of dementia. Reducing stress exposure and improving stress management when stress exposure cannot be changed are thus relevant strategies in dementia risk reduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPrevention Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Lifespan development
  • Risk factors
  • Stress exposure
  • Stress reactivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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