Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Is Increased Among Highly Stressed Adults, New Study Finds

Stressed-out adults have a higher risk of developing mild cognitive impairment as they age, according to a recent study, meaning they’re also at a higher risk for full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.

The study results, published by Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders, showed that chronic stress was linked to a specific type of impairment known as amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), which results in memory loss. Older adults who eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease typically start off with cognitive issues like aMCI.

A Clear Stress Link

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health Systems found the link between stress and Alzheimer’s disease by studying 507 people enrolled in the Einstein Aging Study, which has followed older adults since 1993. Study participants take a regular battery of tests, including a stress assessment that was added in 2005. They were all free of aMCI and other cognitive impairment as of that date and were followed for 3.6 years.

By the end of the study period, 71 participants were diagnosed with aMCI, and those with higher stress levels were much more likely to be among those who developed the disorder. For every five point increase on a participant’s stress assessment, his or her risk of aMCI rose by 30 percent. Because depression is also linked to stress and aMCI, the researchers assess whether it might be playing a role, but they found that it had no significant effect on the stress/aMCI relationship.

Stress Management Might Help

Richard Lipton, M.D., vice chair of neurology at Einstein and Montefiore and senior author of the study, said, “(It) provides strong evident that perceived stress increases the likelihood that an older person will develop aMCI. Fortunately, perceived stress is a modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment, making it a potential target for treatment.”

First author Mindy Katz, M.P.H., senior associate in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology at Einstein, agreed that the ability to treat stress might be helpful in fending off dementia. She explained, “Perceived stress reflects the daily hassles we all experience, as well as the way we appraise and cope with these events. (It) can be altered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive-behavioral therapies and stress-reducing drugs. These interventions may postpone or even prevent an individual’s cognitive decline.”

You’ll find a number of stress-reducing strategies here, and if you’d like to assess your current stress levels, take this screening test. If you think your stress is too high or you need help managing it, talk to your doctor or a counselor to create a personal plan.