Is Chronic Stress Related to an Increased Risk of Dementia?

Does Stress Cause Alzheimer's?
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As scientists continue to work on unraveling the cause of Alzheimer's, they take note when a clue rises to the top.

In the last few years, one of those clues- stress- has been highlighted by multiple research studies for its potential correlation with an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

A Summary of 3 Research Articles

The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences outlines a study where researchers found, through work with mice, that chronic emotional stress seems to affect the health of the brain. Mice who were exposed to repeated stress began to develop some of the neurofibrillary tangles of tau protein that are characteristic of the human brain as Alzheimer's develops. The hippocampus was particularly affected in mice, which is also most often the area of the brain first affected by Alzheimer's disease.

Contrary to the effects of repeated chronic stress, mice who experienced acute (a brief, one time episode) did not develop those brain changes.

If the same holds true for humans, those of us who experience chronic stress in our lives could be at greater risk to develop Alzheimer's disease. While some feel it's a stretch to apply research in mice to humans, science has had some significant success using this model.

Another study published in the British Medical Journal explains research that was conducted over 38 years with 800 women in Sweden. This study tracked the number of potentially stressful events the participants were experiencing such as divorce, widowhood, familial illness, job challenges, etc.,  beginning in 1968 and periodically through the years until 2005. Symptoms of distress were also periodically assessed. The study found that the number of psychosocial stressors (factual occurrences) as well as the women's perception of the events (the distress they experienced) were both independently correlated with an increased risk for developing dementia over time.

A third study reviewed multiple previous research studies and concluded that while there is clearly support for a connection between stress and cognitive functioning, the evidence is not strong enough to determine that stress causes Alzheimer's disease. Rather, it appears to be one of several factors that can increase your risk for cognitive decline.

Coping with, and Decreasing, Stress

Decreasing the stress in your life- and coping with it in more effective ways- is already recommended for both your physical and emotional health. The possibility of reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease gives you one more reason to consider making some life changes.

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