High stress has been linked to many major health concerns including high blood pressure, insomnia, and depression. In a new study published in Alzheimer’s Disease and Associated Disorders, researchers say stress can also be connected to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in older adults. While the study was not focused directly on Alzheimer’s disease dementia, people who are highly stressed were more than twice as likely to eventually develop a form of MCI, which leads to a much higher risk of eventually developing Alzheimer’s.
Researchers used data from more than 500 adults ages 70 and older to study the connection between chronic stress and amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). aMCI, the most common type of mild cognitive impairment affecting memory, is a condition characterized by a decline in memory that is measurable and noticeable but not severe enough to disrupt basic activities of daily living. Clinical evaluations, a variety of neuropsychological tests, psychosocial measures, medical history, assessments of daily-living activities, and reports of memory and other cognitive issues were monitored and reviewed for each participant. Stress levels were calculated using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Scores range from 0 to 56, where higher scores indicate greater perceived stress, and diagnosis of aMCI was based on standardized clinical criteria including results of memory recall testing and reports of the participant’s forgetfulness. At the beginning of the study, all participants were dementia and aMCI free, after being followed for nearly four years, 71 of the 507 participants were diagnosed with aMCI.
Researchers found that for every five point increase in PSS score, the risk of developing aMCI increased by 30 percent. Keith Fargo, the director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association reported, “The 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.” It is not entirely clear if the stress causes Alzheimer’s, or if Alzheimer’s disease is what is causing high levels of stress, but the study is able to show there is an association between stress and later being diagnosed with aMCI. Although many people who develop aMCI are eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, in other people aMCI remains stable or even reverts to normal cognitive function.
High stress can lead to many varying health issues, so regardless of its connection to Alzheimer’s it’s important to learn to manage it effectively. Stress is treatable, Mindy Katz, first study author, said, “Perceived stress can be altered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive-behavioral therapies and stress-reducing drugs.” In addition, managing stress through physical activity can reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure – which, in turn, may also reduce the risk of dementia.
Although a definite connection between stress and Alzheimer’s disease has not been confirmed, Fargo recommends “…keeping an eye on stress levels is likely to be beneficial to our cognitive health as we age.”
For more information, click here to read the article published by CBS.
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.