Midlife Stress Can Lead to Alzheimer's: Study

Monday, 30 Sep 2013 06:13 PM

By Nick Tate

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Something new to stress you out: New research shows that people who deal with a lot of daily stresses in midlife are more likely to develop dementia in old age, with the link particularly strong among women.
The findings, published in the British Medical Journal BMJ Open, suggest the stresses of even everyday life events may trigger physiological changes in the brain that increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
"Our study shows that common psychosocial stressors may have severe and long-standing physiological and psychological consequences," said the researchers from Gothenburg University in Sweden who conducted the research.

5 Signs You’ll Get Alzheimer’s Disease

"However, more studies are needed to confirm these results and investigate whether more interventions such as stress management and behavioral therapy should be initiated in individuals who have experienced psychosocial stressors."
For the study, the team of investigators tracked the mental health of 800 Swedish women for nearly 40 years, beginning in 1968. The women — who were all born between 1914 and 1930 — underwent a battery of psychiatric tests and examinations in 1968, and then again in 1974, 1980, 1992, 2000, and 2005.

The women were also surveyed about the psychological impact of 18 common stressors, such as divorce, widowhood, serious illness or death of a child, mental illness, or alcoholism in a close family member, personal or partner's unemployment, and poor social support. Over the course of the study about 20 percent of the women developed dementia, 104 of whom developed Alzheimer's disease.

The results showed a high number of stressors reported in 1968 was associated with a 21 percent greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and a 15 percent greater risk of dementia.

"Stress may cause a number of physiological reactions in the central nervous, endocrine, immune, and cardiovascular systems," said the researchers.
They noted past studies have shown stress can cause structural and functional damage to the brain and promote inflammation, and that stress hormones can remain at high levels many years after experiencing a traumatic event.

Mary Karapetian Alvord, a practicing Washington, D.C., psychologist and stress specialist, tells Newsmax Health medical science is only just beginning to unravel the connections between stress and illness.
"For me the bottom line is how can you improve your response to stress?" says Alvord, a member of the American Psychological Association and adjunct associate professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.  "Because stress is always going to be a part of our lives … how can you reduce it as much as possible and cope with the stresses you can't eliminate?"

She recommends the following strategies to manage stress levels:
Relaxation techniques: Do something — meditation, yoga, and other practices — that calms your mind when stressed. It can also help to identify solutions to stressful situations. "We can control it, if we can gain some perspective on the situation," says Alvord, who has produced a book on stress ("Resilience Builder Program") and two stress-busting CDs — "Relaxation and Self-Regulation Techniques for Children and Teens" and "Relaxation and Wellness Techniques."

5 Signs You’ll Get Alzheimer’s Disease
Watch what you eat: Look for links between what you eat, and when, and stress. If you’re eating when you're stressed and not hungry, find a distraction. Keep comfort foods out of your home or workplace.  
Get moving: Exercise boosts production of the brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, endorphins, which improve mood and lower stress levels, as well as the risk of depression — in addition to combatting heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. 
Socialize: In addition to trying stress-management techniques, Alvord suggests building strong support networks, using "positive self-talk" to boost esteem, and getting enough sleep every day. 

© 2014 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

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