Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Does Chronic Stress in Middle Age Later Lead to Alzheimer's?

We now know that while there isn't a cure for Alzheimer's, but there are certain risk factors that raise the chances -- and brain-healthy lifestyles that reduce the risk. They include exercising regularly and moderately, eating well, keeping the brain active and staying socially connected.

If a new Swedish study is any indication, we may want to add reduce your daily stress level to that list.

The study followed 800 women ages 30s through 50s for almost four decades and discovered those that who dealt (perhaps poorly, perhaps long-term) with severe or chronic stress from, say,a divorce, a longterm job loss, a spouse's death, a child with substance abuse were more likely to show symptoms of dementia (particularly Alzheimer's disease) in their later years. In fact, those who underwent stressful periods or learned to live with an elevated level of stress

"That doesn't prove that a stressful life is to blame, said Dr. Marc Gordon, chief of neurology at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.  But, he noted, the researchers did account for a number of other explanations for the link -- including whether the women had high blood pressure or diabetes, were overweight or had low incomes."

The idea of a link between stress and dementia is not a stretch. When we're stressed, our body chemistry changes and that impacts our diets, our sleeping patterns, our relationships with others, etc. In other words, it circles back to the lifestyle choices we mentioned earlier - eating well, exercising and staying connected to your friends. Caregiving is stressful in general, and elder caregiving particularly so.

What the study does suggest is that even those who live with chronic stress may be at higher risk if they don't treat the stress (and possible depression) that comes with sudden life changes or chronic conditions.

"These are the kinds of stressors that grate on people day to day," Wilson noted. And this study, he said, suggests that these issues should not "just be brushed off." He agreed, though, that the question remains: Could stress reduction make a difference in people's Alzheimer's risk?
The jury's still out on that, but in the meantime, the best way to handle life's lumps is to change what you can and accept what you cannot. If you find you are not eating properly, sleeping properly or maintaining important relationships because you're always stressed, it may be time to get professional help now to improve your prospects in the future.

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