The Link Between Stress and Alzheimer’s

alzheimer's has a link to chronic stressYou know stress contributes to heart disease, digestive difficulties and sleep disorders such as insomnia. But now research has linked stress to Alzheimer’s disease.  And it’s not just any stress, it’s the daily stress – the ongoing, unrelenting stress you experience as you navigate life – that’s to blame.

The University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, released the study in which mice were placed in vented tubes for 30 minutes a day over a two-week period. While inside the tubes, they were denied access to food and water. This is known to be the equivalent of the stress experienced by humans during prolonged periods of emotional strain. The results suggest that chronic stress may lead to pathological changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Exposure to chronic stress induced insoluble protein clumps in the brains of the mice, similar to those seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. While previous studies yielded similar results, they involved mice with rare genetic mutations. This latest research involved healthy mice, with no mutations, simply exposed to chronic emotional stress.

A certain amount of stress is inevitable in life, but as we age, that stress takes a toll on our bodies.  It may lead to pathological changes in stress circuitry – our neuron circuits simply wear out over time and are less able to rebound.  Age is the primary known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent human study yielded similar results. Researchers in Sweden followed 913 people age 75 and older over a six-year period to study the long-term effects of job related stress. Their results were astonishing – continuous emotional stress experienced by those with low job control and high job strain was associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

It may feel like there’s nothing you can do about stress. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your career and family responsibilities will always be demanding.  But you actually have more control than you think.  In fact, the foundation of stress management is the simple realization that you’re in control of your life. Managing stress is all about taking charge – of your thoughts, emotions, schedule, and the way you deal with problems.

  • Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Taking on more than you can handle at work in your personal life is a recipe for disaster.
  • Take control of your environment – If your commute has you sitting in traffic and it stresses you out, take a longer, but less-traveled route.  If the crowded grocery store puts you over the edge, try grocery delivery.
  • Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, you must be willing to do the same. If you’re both willing to bend, you’re more likely to find common ground.
  • Look at the big picture. Keep perspective in stressful situations. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it still matter in a month?  Is it really worth getting upset over? If you answer, “no,” focus your time and energy elsewhere.