A new study funded by the Alzheimer’s Society will investigate whether chronic stress should be considered a risk factor for developing dementia.

The study which is set to begin in less than a week will involve 18 months of monitoring 140 people age 50 and over with mild cognitive impairment. Each partaker will be evaluated for levels of stress and for any advancement from mild cognitive impairment to dementia. The partakers in trial will be compared to a “control group” of 70 people without memory problems.

Each person participating in this study will all be asked to complete a cognitive test in order to track his/her mental health. Questionnaires will evaluate his/her personality type, style of coping with stressful events and his/her perceived level of social support and mood. The researchers will take samples of blood and saliva every six months in a means to calculate biological markers of stress. Blood samples will measure immune function and saliva will measure levels of cortisol, which is released by the body as a reaction during chronic stress.

After 18 months the process will be repeated to record any change from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s.  

Professor Clive Holmes, the lead researcher at the University of Southampton stated, “This is the first stage in developing ways in which to intervene with psychological or drug based treatments to fight the disease.”

 According to Professor Holmes there is a lot of unpredictability when it comes to assessing how quickly the progression can happen. One factor associated with the process is chronic stress, which could be steered by negative change, such as longstanding illness, injury, or a major operation. Other factors that will be considered are bereavement and traumatic experiences. He also will be observing the facets of stress relief, both physical and psychological, and the body’s reaction.

Alzheimer’s Society research manager Anne Corbett deems this study essential in understanding the different ways of coping with stressful life events that could influence the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. She also believes the results can offer clues to new treatment or better ways in handling the condition

This study will be published on alzheimers.org.uk