Psychological factors tied to increased stroke risk

Strokes affect around 795,000 people each year, and about three quarters of them are 65 and older. Finding effective means of stroke prevention is a key component of healthy aging, and a new study suggests that mental well-being plays an important role. Researchers from the University of Minnesota say that psychological stress may increase the chances of suffering a fatal or nonfatal stroke.

The study, led by Dr. Susan A. Everson-Rose, relied on data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project, which assessed the health of adults 65 and older. The project focused on everything from subjects' previous medical history, cognitive health and psychological characteristics.

After collecting follow-up data on the more than 6,700 participants who suffered a stroke, the researchers found a distinct correlation between psychological distress - which includes depressive symptoms, stress levels and life satisfaction - and stroke risk. Specifically, for every one percent increase in standard deviation of psychological distress there was a 47 percent greater risk of a fatal stroke.

"This study provides important evidence linking psychosocial distress to risk of both fatal and nonfatal stroke outcomes in elderly blacks and whites,” the researchers wrote. “The biological mechanisms underlying these associations remain to be determined, although our data suggest that pathways related to nonischemic disease mechanisms may be critical.”

The study highlights the important role that mental well-being can play in a healthy lifestyle for seniors. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, experts say that depression is linked with an increased risk of disability and dependence, something that could considerably threaten independent living. It's also a serious issue that could use more attention, with approximately 6.5 million people 65 and older experiencing symptoms.