Stress has been proven to be a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, in a recent study published online on Friday, December 11.
Experts at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and its University Hospital (Montefiore Medical Center) reviewed data which had been extracted as part of the Einstein Ageing Study (EAS).
That research has been carried out ever since 1993, with the aim of assessing the effects of aging on the human brain. For the last decade, the survey has also included reliable measurements of each individual’s level of anxiety and emotional turmoil, using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS).
By analyzing information collected across a median period of 3.6 years and pertaining to 507 subjects, aged 70 and upwards, researchers sought to identify a potential cause and effect relationship between prolonged stress and memory loss (amnesic mild cognitive impairment or aMCI).
It was determined that, when rating PSS on a scale from 0 to 56, an increase of 5 points corresponded to a 30% more significant risk of suffering from aMCI.
In fact, elderly individuals who had been affected by significant emotional pressures, to the point where they felt completely helpless and devoid of control, faced double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, in contrast with those who had experienced no such turmoil.
The most vulnerable were female participants, especially those with low levels of education or who also suffered from depression.
As a person grows older, the brain loses its ability to function at full capacity, and some people are eventually affected by mild cognitive impairment.
This condition causes more severe damage to the brain’s performance in contrast to the natural process of aging.
In fact, it is considered to be an incipient form of dementia, a progressive disease which leads to memory loss and speech problems, severely affects motor skills and disrupts the individual’s ability to carry out daily tasks.
Now that scientists have discovered that chronic stress can actually lead to amnesic mild cognitive impairment, they are hopeful that this will allow them to devise new strategies so as to reduce the prevalence of dementia. At the moment, a staggering number of 470,000 Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, on an annual basis.
The emotional strain that an individual is under doesn’t refer solely to real-life sources of anxiety and distress, but also to the way those are perceived and dealt with.
A person with a very challenging lifestyle who possesses effective coping strategies may actually feel less pressurized than one who has a more peaceful routine, but frequently gets overwhelmed or easily discouraged.
As emphasized by Richard Lipton and Mindy Kats, the authors of the study featured in the journal Alzheimer’s Disease and Associated Disorders, stress is to some extent under the individual’s control, who can choose how to react when faced with potentially nerve-racking situations.
Therefore, in order to minimize the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, those who get easily flustered and upset could find it beneficial to opt for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and other types of counselling meant at addressing self-defeating behavior.
Alternatively, they could try mindfulness meditation as a means of alleviating stress, or they could consult with a mental health professional, who could recommend them medication that provides relief against overpowering anxiety.
Image Source: Flickr