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How Can Stress Increase the Risk of Alzheimer Disease?

Stress & Alzheimer Disease: Is There a Link?

Stress is one of the major factors which decides the way a disease condition will progress or advance for a patient. This is especially true for people undergoing treatment for potentially serious or incurable diseases of which one is Alzheimer Disease. The stress of the diagnosis coupled with the stress of various treatments involved, the prognosis, and the financial burden of treatment all play a role in deterioration of the overall health of the patient. Stress affects the ability of the patient to cope with the disease, dents the quality of life of the patient, and further complicates the whole scenario[1].

This is more so seen in neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer Disease where there is a gradual loss of memory along with loss of motor function which adds to the stress. The effect of stress can be so devastating that it can affect neural transmission and trigger stress responses. This often results in behavioral problems with the patient showing at times emotional and at times extremely aggressive behaviors. This makes taking care of the patient extremely challenging for caregivers[1].

Studies have also shown that stress plays a crucial role in aggravation of the disease process and exacerbation of symptoms. Since times unknown, it has been known that stress has a tendency to aggravate and exacerbate medical conditions. This is done by elevation of the cortisol levels produced in the adrenal glands[1].

This elevation of the cortisol levels results in symptoms that an individual experiences if under stress. This can include anxiety, depression, and pain. The role of stress in increasing the risk of Alzheimer Disease is what has been discussed in the article below[1].

How Can Stress Increase The Risk of Alzheimer Disease?

How Can Stress Increase The Risk of Alzheimer Disease?

Latest research done on risk of Alzheimer Disease has revealed that stress does have a tendency to increase the risk of an individual developing this condition, although age, family history, and genetic makeup also have a role to play. Certain medical conditions like cardiovascular disease or diabetes also increase this risk as they tend to affect the blood vessels[2].

A research was done by scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark on the link between psychological stress and increased risk of Alzheimer. An individual is said to be under psychological distress when he or she displays excessive irritability and mood swings, is completely demoralized about his or her health status, and is persistently fatigued. Researchers suggest that this form of stress usually occurs as a reaction to some situations which cannot be resolved. This is more so when the individual has been under immense stress for most of life[2].

A link between cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and metabolic syndrome with stress has already been established. To study the link between stress and the risk of Alzheimer Disease the researchers did a data analysis of a survey of around 7000 people with an average age of 60 years and who were participants in the Copenhagen City Heart Study. The participants were enquired about the symptoms of psychological stress. The hospital records of the participants were also analyzed as a part of the study to look for any diagnosis of dementia[2].

The study revealed that there was a dose response connection between psychological stress starting at around age 40 to the development of Alzheimer Disease by the time the participant reached age 70. It was reported that for every symptom of psychological stress reported by the participant there was an increase in the risk of Alzheimer Disease by about 2%[2].

Thus the participants who reported more than 9 symptoms had a stunning 25% increased risk for developing Alzheimer Disease later on in life and those who reported more than 15 symptoms had around 40% increased risk. The researchers were of the opinion that it was highly unlikely that dementia was the reason behind psychological stress but it was rather the reverse of it. The researchers also studied whether symptoms caused by psychological stress was an early sign of dementia and again there were similar results[2].

When asked about the causes, the researchers felt that cortisol and the associated cardiovascular changes due to excessive stress were the main culprits behind the increased incidences of dementia and Alzheimer later on in life. They also opined that in countries where cardiovascular risk factors including stress have been managed successfully, the dementia and subsequently Alzheimer risk has gone down by a significant amount[2].

Thus the researchers concluded if psychological stress can be managed and the patient is taught to cope up with the disease process then the risk of dementia and Alzheimer Disease can be significantly reduced[2].

In conclusion, there is definitely a link between stress and the increased risk of Alzheimer Disease. This has been proved in various studies and research work done by various scientists around the world. The latest research done on this topic by scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark clearly establishes the link between psychological stress and dementia and subsequent Alzheimer Disease[2].

The researchers analyzed data of about 7000 participants with cardiovascular risk factors. These participants were then asked whether they experienced any symptoms of psychological stress. It was noted that participants who were under constant stress in their midlife went on to develop Alzheimer Disease later on. This risk increased by 2% with every symptom they endorsed during questioning by the scientists[2].

People who endorsed more than 15 symptoms of stress had a staggering 40% increased risk of developing Alzheimer. The researchers therefore concluded that addressing the risk factors for stress can markedly reduce the risk for Alzheimer Disease much later in life[2].


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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 6, 2020

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