The Grapevine

Higher Stress Levels May Double Risk Of Alzheimer's Disease In Older Adults

Stress
People who are highly stressed are more than twice as likely to develop a form of mild cognitive impairment. Flickr/bottled_void

Overanalyzing situations and losing sleep over things you can't control could put you at a great risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, a new study published in Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders has found.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia marked by problems with memory, thinking, and language. It can also disrupt a person's daily routine — the same goes for stress. In addition to being the root of health concerns like insomnia, depression and high blood pressure, stress has now been linked to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in older adults, which is often a prelude to Alzheimer's. In the new study, researchers found people who are highly stressed are more than twice as likely to develop the neurodegenerative disease.

"Our study provides strong evidence that perceived stress increases the likelihood that an older person will develop a MCI," Dr. Richard Lipton, senior author of the study, said in a press release. "Fortunately, perceived stress is a modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment, making it a potential target for treatment."

Researchers used data from more than 500 adults aged 70 and older to examine the connection between chronic stress and amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), the most common type of mild cognitive impairment affecting memory. At the beginning of the study, all participants were free of aMCI or dementia; they were followed for nearly four years.

Clinical evaluations, a neuropsychological battery of tests, psychosocial measures, medical history, assessments of daily-living activities, and reports of memory and other cognitive complaints were all taken into account for each participant. Stress levels were assessed using the Perceived Stress Scale Scale (PSS), where on scale of zero to 56, higher scores indicated greater perceived stress. 

The results showed higher stress levels were linked to a greater risk of developing aMCI. Additionally, researchers found that for every five point increase in PSS score, the risk of developing aMCI jumped by 30 percent.

Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer's Association, told CBS the study has not proven a causal link between stress levels and aMCI.

"This observational study can only tell us whether there is an association between stress and later being diagnosed with aMCI. It cannot tell us whether stress or perceived stress cause aMCI," Fargo said.

About 5 million people in the United States aged 65 and older had Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number is expected to triple by 2050. Researchers say the onset of Alzheimer's can be delayed or prevented if stress is detected and treated early in older adults.

"Perceived stress reflects the daily hassles we all experience, as well as the way we appraise and cope with these events," said first study author Mindy Katz. "Perceived stress can be altered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive-behavioral therapies and stress-reducing drugs. These interventions may postpone or even prevent an individual's cognitive decline."

Source: Katz M, Derby C, Wang, C et al. Influence of Perceived Stress on Incident Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment: Results From The Aging Study. Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders. 2015.

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