In 2013, Argentinean researchers presented evidence suggesting that stress may be a trigger for the onset of Alzheimer's disease. The study found that 72 percent—nearly three out of four—Alzheimer's patients had experienced severe emotional stress during the two years preceding their diagnosis.
In the control group, only 26 percent, or one in four, had undergone major stress or grief. Most of the stresses encountered by the Alzheimer's group involved:
- Bereavement; death of a spouse, partner, or child
- Violent experiences, such as assault or robbery
- Car accidents
- Financial problems, including "pension shock"
- Diagnosis of a family member's severe illness
According to lead author, Dr. Edgardo Reich:"Stress, according to our findings, is probably a trigger for initial symptoms of dementia. Though I rule out stress as monocausal in dementia, research is solidifying the evidence that stress can trigger a degenerative process in the brain and precipitate dysfunction in the neuroendocrine and immune system. It is an observational finding and does not imply direct causality. Further studies are needed to examine these mechanisms in detail."
Other studies have found the link between stress and a wide variety of physical disorders
Earlier studies have also linked chronic stress with working memory impairment. Other recent research suggests that stress may even speed up the onset of more serious dementia known as Alzheimer's disease, which currently afflicts about 5.4 million Americans, including one in eight people aged 65 and over.4
It is imperative to effectively disrupt and prevent your chronic stress responses. Based on the findings linking dementia with chronic stress, having effective tools to address stress can be an important part of Alzheimer's prevention, not to mention achieving and maintaining optimal health in general.
How Stress Impacts Memory Function and the Brain
Your brain was designed to easily manage short term bouts of stress. The stress response is necessary for survival. However, long term
According to research findings conducted at the University of Iowa, high cortisol levels can impair your memory by causing a gradual loss of synapses (nerve connections) in the region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex that is associated with short-term memory. Continuous exposure to the stress hormone cortisol, over time promotes disruption of the nerve connections known as synapses that are responsible for memory storage and processing.
But abnormally high or prolonged spikes in cortisol—like what happens when we are dealing with long-term stress—can lead to negative consequences that numerous bodies of research have shown to include digestion problems, anxiety, weight gain, and high blood pressure."
If you are feeling stressed on a frequently throughout your day, it is important to protect your brain and future memory function by normalizing your cortisol levels. Such intervention would be particularly beneficial for those who are at high risk for elevated cortisol, such as those who are depressed or are dealing with long-term stress following a traumatic event.