Stress Now, Dementia Later

Over the next two decades, it is estimated that around 80 million people will develop Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. These past few years, medical scientists have uncovered revealing links, and have learned a lot about how the disease begins and how it spreads through the brain. One of the most startling things they have discovered is that Alzheimer’s can be triggered by stressful life events.

The connection between the beginning of dementia and chronic stress was investigated by a recent UK study. In recent years, the theory that frequent life stressors could set off the occurrence of the disease, or at least contribute to the jump from MCI (mild cognitive impairment) to diagnosed dementia, has been given a considerable push, and researchers have started to allocate more resources in order to understand the association much better.

Clive Holmes, the author of the study states that “Chronic stress is one of  the factors increasingly implicated in the process and could be driven by significant negative factors – such as an injury, prolonged illness, or a major surgery”. He added, “We are investigating how they may become risk factors for the development of Alzheimer’s”. “This will help us formulate ways in which intervention by means of drug-or psychological-based therapies are used to fight the disease.”

We’ve gotten a little bit of information about the connection between stress and dementia these past few years. One study two years ago showed that women in mid-life who had been exposed to significant stressors had a 65% likelihood of developing dementia later on in life. It’s believed that stressful events may set off a series of reactions that involve glucocorticoids (stress hormones) that eventually results in hippocampus atrophy. The hippocampus is the area of the brain where memory is stored, and the area that’s most affected by Alzheimer’s.

Medical research done in mice showed that stress hormones are associated with elevated levels of tau protein and APP (amyloid precursor protein), which is usually seen in various forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s. The research authors suggest that since Alzheimer’s disease patients are known to exhibit higher levels of stress hormones, they suggest that the hormones are a probable cause of the disease and not a consequence of it.

Lastly, it has been shown that amyloid-beta plaques, another and more infamous cause of Alzheimer’s tends to gather in people who often think unhappy thoughts, whose mind often wanders, or who are often depressed. This alarming discovery suggests that even our moods and thoughts can increase our risk for dementia.

These discoveries afford us another panorama of how stress can be so destructive to health. But since stress is a lifestyle factor, we should be glad by the fact that we have the power to alter our lives and the way we live which can help prevent is from developing dementia. Stress is a lifestyle factor, like weight gain or smoking and with the right tools can be modified to enhance our well-being rather than destroying it. We now should learn how to see stress in a different light instead of brushing it off as a normal byproduct of modern life. The connection between dementia and stress should make stress reduction a very important goal in one’s daily life, since long-term stress can impact the way our brain functions in the present, which may lead to serious consequences to our brain’s health later on in life.