Stress Leads to Alzheimer's Disease, A New Study Reveals

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Dec 14, 2015 05:30 AM EST

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States alone, and the Alzheimer's Association estimates that by 2050, the $226 billion spent on Alzheimer's and other dementias in 2015 will rise to $1.1 trillion. In 2015 alone, there has been an estimated 5.3 million Americans who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

A new study coming from researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have found that increased stress may be a risk factor for thinking difficulties that lead to Alzheimer's disease, Healthday reports. The study, which was published in the journal Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders, analyzed the survey answers of 507 people aged 70 and older who were enrolled in the Einstein Aging Study (EAS), a community-based cohort of elderly individuals.

According to The Times Gazette, the EAS has been systematically recruiting adults aged 70 and beyond from the areas of Bronx County, New York since 1993. Ever year for three years, assessments were conducted for the participants, including clinical evaluations, neuropsychological tests, psychosocial measures, daily life assessments, medical history, and reports of memory and cognitive issues.

Researchers found that the participants who believed that they were under the most stress had a 30% more chance of developing cognitive impairment. The risk remained despite accounting for their depression symptoms, age, sex, race, education level and genetic risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Study co-author Dr. Richard Lipton, vice chair of neurology at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City explained, "The evidence suggests that perception of events is more important than the events themselves in predicting biological consequences and future health."

"This is good news because perception of stressful events is amenable to intervention," he said. Such intervention for stress relief and reduction include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based meditation, yoga and biofeedback, Lipton recommended.

According to Dr. Gayatri Devi, a Lenox Hill Hospital neurologist who was not involved in the study, "We know that, in general, stress makes it harder to think clearly. But here's data showing that stress may put us at risk for developing diseases like Alzheimer's."

Devi added that getting sufficient, quality sleep is also important to reduce stress. She explained, "We all undervalue sleep, but it's very important. Sleep is probably the single most effective, efficient, inexpensive and widely available method of reducing stress, and we were all born experts at it."

Devi also explained that the reason why stress may cause thinking difficulties is because of the hormone cortisol, which increases during stressful moments and reduces the nerve cell density in the brain.

"Stress also raises the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and lowers others so the brain works less efficiently, and stress may play a role in laying down plaques responsible for cell death in Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Devi rationalized. "When we're more stressed, we're more likely to have infections, and it affects our immune functioning. Immune functioning is thought to be related to developing Alzheimer's."

Researchers recommend a more proactive approach in dealing with everyday stress, and a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise to keep healthy and ward off illnesses.

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