Research On Stress And Alzheimers
Other scientists are focusing on how stress can prematurely age our brains. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine have found that both traumatic childhood experiences, as well as traumatic adulthood experiences, may cause the brain to age more rapidly than those without a background of such experiences.
There is some debate whether this premature brain aging is due to the cumulative effects of inflammation, shortening of telomeres or some process not yet identified.
Given the strong correlation between stress and Alzheimers, it is in our best interest to minimize chronic stress and to practice stress reduction and coping techniques such as:
- Seek social support from family and friends
- Set boundaries and say no when necessary
- Sleep seven to eight hours a night
- Talk therapy
Psychiatrist Dr. Linda Mah, of the University of Toronto, says that stress-induced damage to the hippocampus and pre-frontal cortex can be combated or even reversed with anti-depressants and physical activity that have both been found to improve the hippocampus.
Although there is ample evidence to show a connection between stress and Alzheimers, there is not enough convincing evidence that stress directly causes the disease. That being said, lifestyle factors like stress are those that we have the most control over. If we can lower our stress levels, it will give us the best chance of remaining active and vibrant throughout our lives.
What Are The Symptoms Of Early Onset Of Alzheimer’s Disease
While there is no definitive cure for the disease, a timely diagnosis is critical to preserve the quality of life. According to Dr Nithin Kumar, Consultant Neurology, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road, Bengaluru, a person may be developing early onset Alzheimers disease if you notice any of the following:
Rodent Models Of Ad Have Disrupted Stress Responses
The majority of studies on stress in AD mouse models have focused on how stress accelerates disease. However, beginning with the first AD mouse model, tg2576 , there have been persistent reports that transgenic AD model strains exhibit aberrant aggressive and anxiety-related behavior . In tg2576 mice this is so profound that transgenic mice will often kill their cage mates male tg2576 mice need to be housed alone . This anxiety phenotype has now been quantitatively described in multiple different transgenic AD models, from mice over-expressing APP carrying FAD mutations to knock-in AD models , FAD transgenic rats , and rats intraventricularly injected with A . In addition to elevated anxiety, young AD model mice are more susceptible to the development of PTSD-like symptoms after trauma exposure, long before amyloid plaque deposition . Because elevated anxiety-related behavior is present in so many independently-generated transgenic mice, it is hard to imagine that this is due to the background strain of any particular transgenic mouse. Rather, APP misexpression must in some way perturb stress-responsive neurons to alter their function, which in mouse is expressed as elevated anxiety-related behavior and stress sensitivity.
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Validating Findings In Animal Models Of Disease
Armed with this knowledge about epichaperomes, Dr. Chiosis and her team treated a mouse model of Alzheimers with PU-AD. Like PU-H71 in cancer, PU-AD uncouples the faulty protein networks created by epichaperomes. They found that PU-AD corrected how proteins interacted in the mice. The drug was able to fix signaling problems between neurons. The treated brains resembled those of normal mice.
Further research showed that after Alzheimers mice were given PU-AD, they performed much better in tests that evaluate memory function. They also survived longer than mice given a placebo. This indicates that the drug treatment was safe and effective.
The first clinical trial of PU-AD launched in 2019 to confirm in healthy volunteers that the drug is safe. PU-H71 is already in clinical trials for lymphoma, breast cancer, and other cancers. That drug appears to be safe, and researchers are optimistic that the same will hold true for PU-AD. PET imaging versions of both drugs are also being studied in clinical trials as a way to track changes in cells and PCBD in living patients, with the hope that the drug treatment reverses damage in real time.
Summing up the findings in such diverse disorders as cancer and Alzheimers disease, Dr. Chiosis says, Epichaperomes are disease hallmarks that we are just beginning to understand. The idea that we might be able to target this whole network with drugs and treat such complex diseases as cancer and Alzheimers is pretty remarkable.
The 27 Life Events That Can Damage The Brain Lead To Alzheimers
These stressful life events have been linked to causing damage to the brain, which could lead to Alzheimers.
The likelihood of developing the disease could increase after experiencing just one of the events listed below:
Do you suspect that stressful life events can lead to Alzheimers and have you seen the effects of stress on brain health in your family? Share your stories with us in the comments below.
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Take Action To Reduce Stress
- Take personal time for yourself. Exercise, relaxation, entertainment, hobbies and socializing are essential parts of our health and well-being. Everyone needs to find a balance that limits stress and helps maintain optimal health.
- Identify unrealistic expectations and try to accept what can not be changed.
- Seek and accept support.
- Utilize a variety of stress reduction methods.
- Prepare ahead new or unfamiliar situations can create stress and anxiety.
- Get plenty of sleep.
Note: Your abilities, health situation and interests should be taken into consideration when choosing brain healthy activities. If you have questions about your own situation, speak to your doctor or health-care provider.
There are no guarantees, but healthy lifestyle choices will help keep your brain as healthy as possible as you age.
The Potential Link Between Stress And Alzheimers
In 2012, the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom began a three-year study investigating the effects of chronic stress on both people with mild cognitive impairment and a control group of people over 50 without any memory issues.
The study was just the beginning of research across the world that is investigating the effects of stress on both the development and progression of Alzheimers once it has been diagnosed.
Much of the new research regarding stress and Alzheimers has revolved around brain aging, the role of cortisol and structural changes that are caused by chronic stress.
Stress can cause physical changes to the brain such as:
- Disrupting specific synapses which regulate cognitive function and social skills
- Increased activity in areas of the brain responsible for anxiety
- Killing brain cells
- Reducing brain size
Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone as it is one of the main hormones involved in the bodys fight or flight syndrome. When cortisol is released due to stress, it causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, and a decrease in non-critical bodily functions such as digestion and immune response. Research also shows that chronically high cortisol levels have been associated with anxiety, blood pressure and memory loss.
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Anxiety Harms Your Memory Recall
Anxiety happens when worrisome thoughts continually play in your head. This constant mental stress will empty your energy reserves. It becomes harder to remember new information and to recall old information. Your brain becomes locked in a pattern of anxiety and leaves no room for new memories to form, which makes it difficult to get a full night of sleep. Sleep is the time when our brain consolidates new memories and what we learned throughout the day.
A study out of the University of California has found that losing sleep can make your brain susceptible to the type of memory loss connected to dementia.
Brain Tip: Consider therapy to reduce the stress of anxiety such as:
The Effects Of Stress On Brain Health
The latest study to evaluate the effects of stress on brain health was presented at the Alzheimers Association International Conference in London. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health evaluated data from 1,320 participants who shared information about their own stressful life experiences and then participated in cognitive tests.
Researchers found that every stressful event was equal to 1.5 years of brain aging across all participants, except for African-Americans, where every stressful event was equal to 4 years of brain aging.
The study also found that African-Americans reported 60% more stressful events on average than Caucasians, which may help to explain why there is a higher incidence of Alzheimers there.
The Alzheimers Associations Dr. Maria Carrillo, said:
The stressful events were throughout the lifespan a variety of things that you can imagine would be impactful and stressful. Dementia and brain health should be thought of as life-course issues, not just mid-life or late-life . We have to start thinking about brain health from birth, if not before.
The link between Alzheimers and stress needs to be further examined, but researchers believes that stress can cause inflammation in the brain, making the brain more susceptible to health problems like dementia. Stress can also lead to depression, a known risk factor for Alzheimers and related forms of the disease.
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The Relationship Between Stress And Neurodegenerative Disease The Vicious Cycle Of Stress
Since the time of Selye, we have known that excessive levels of stress can cause and exacerbate disease, in large part through the activation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis which elevates circulating corticosteroid levels. This produces a constellation of symptoms that occur in response to any form of stress, which he terms the general adaptation syndrome . With recent advances, we have come to more fully understand both how stress exacerbates disease symptoms and drives disease progression, and how diseases disrupt stress responses to produce neuropsychiatric symptoms. I term this feed-forward relationship between stress and disease, The Vicious Cycle of Stress .
The Vicious Cycle of Stress. On the right arc of the cycle, elevated stress exacerbates Alzheimer’s Disease, causing more rapid development of pathology and loss in cognitive function. On the left arc of the cycle, disease perturbs stress responsive neural circuits, producing neuropsychiatric co-morbidities, including depression, anixety, and aggressive behavior. The HPA axis , in which hypothalamic CRF activates pituitary ACTH release and subsequent Cortisol release by the adrenal cortex, has a central role in both the exacerbation of AD by stress, and the stress-related symptoms caused by ongoing neurodegeneration.
Stories From Real Life
Even if the scientists remain divided, stories abound of people with dementia showing real improvement in their mental abilities when stress levels are reduced through art, music, therapeutic touch, conversation or countryside walks.
Brian, living with dementia, speaking after an outdoor guided walk, said It helps dampen down the symptoms of my dementia.I forget I have dementia.
Music For Life and Singing for the Brain use music to alleviate Alzheimers. The late neurologist Oliver Sacks describes, in stunning real life stories, how music appears to call back the self, awakening moods, memories and thoughts that had seemingly been lost.
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Caring For A Person With Alzheimers Disease
Currently, there is no permanent cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but medicines can help relieve some of the symptoms. Hence, an early Alzheimers diagnosis provides a better chance of benefiting from treatment. Caring for a person with Alzheimers or dementia frequently involves a team of people. The role of a caregiver changes depending on the stage and severity of the disease.
World Alzheimers Day is celebrated all on 21 September over the world to raise awareness about dementia and Alzheimers disease. As we observe the global event amid the pandemic, its important for family members and caregivers to give additional reminders or keep written notes and signs around the patient. Alzheimers disease does not increase the risk of a COVID-19 infection, however, research suggests that old age and other factors may pose a risk.
Stress And Parkinson’s Disease
While many studies have investigated how stress impacts AD, fewer have looked into the role that stress plays in other neurodegenerative diseases, such as the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson’s Disease . Evidence from the clinic has pointed to an important role for stress on both sides of the Vicious Cycle of Stress in PD etiology. PD elevates anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, all common in Parkinsonian patients, perhaps due to the degeneration of dopaminergic or other neural circuits . Anxiety is the most common neuropsychiatric symptom in PD patients, found in up to 69 percent, followed by depression in 30 percent and generalized anxiety disorder in 11 percent of PD patients . An even greater correlation with neuropsychiatric symptoms is found in the PD-related, Dementia with Lewy Bodies . There is less experimental evidence that stress exacerbates PD. However, it has been reported that in PD patients, stress can dramatically exacerbate common symptoms of PD including rigidity and tremors . In a rat model of PD, chronic variable stress worsens motor performance and increases dopamine neuron loss. Given that circuits degenerate that are critical for the appropriate maintenance of stress responses and HPA axis tone in PD and other neurodegenerative diseases, it is likely that many more connections will be found between stress and the pathology, symptoms, and progression of neurodegenerative diseases other than AD.
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Sleepless Nights: Another Risk Factor For Dementia
As anyone whos ever tossed and turned all night knows, stress can cause insomnia. Insomnia can also cause stressparticularly when you wake up feeling like a zombie morning after morning. Seniors are likelier to experience insomnia than other groups. One study found that 36 percent of women over the age of 65 take longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
Sleepless nights are linked to dementia in several ways. One recent study, which looked primarily at male veterans, found that sleep problems increase the risk of dementia by 30 percent. For insomniacs with a history of trauma, theres more bad news: Among people with post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeplessness increases the risk of dementia by 80 percent.
Insomnia isnt just a risk factor for dementia. It could also be an early warning sign. Age-related sleep changes can occur even in people who dont have dementia. Many seniors find they get up earlier or need slightly less sleep than they once did. More pronounced sleep disturbances, however, can spell trouble. One study found that difficult sleeping can be an early sign of dementia-related brain changes, especially if sleeplessness is accompanied by daytime fatigue.
Its possible that dementia simply changes the way the brain manages sleep. Other research has found that excessive sleep can also warn of dementia. So seniors struggling with sleep issues should take their symptoms seriously. After all, everyone needs rest.
What Does Science Say About Stress And Dementia
A review of the scientific literature on stress and dementia risk concluded that stress could play a role in dementia development but is unlikely to be the only factor that causes the condition. There is still much to be understood about what mechanisms could underlie any links between stress and dementia risk.
A study funded by Alzheimers Society is examining whether long-term stress may play a role in whether someone progresses from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimers disease. Lead researcher Clive Holmes says:
‘Understanding the role of the immune system in the risk of Alzheimers disease is of great importance to researchers. As prolonged stress can cause changes in the immune system, we wanted to find out if this was linked to progression to dementia from mild cognitive impairment.
‘Our investigations show that stress does appear to have an effect on progression in mild cognitive impairment. Our preliminary findings are showing that this may be mediated through a fault in the regulation of the immune system in people with mild cognitive impairment but we are continuing to investigate this further.’
Some researchers looking into long-term stress and dementia have focused on people who are affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder . This is a diagnosed condition that occurs when a person has been through a life-changing or distressing event.
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Emotional Causes Of Memory Loss
Because our mind and body are connected and affect each other, our emotions and thoughts can impact our brain. The energy it takes to cope with certain feelings or life stress can get in the way of storing or remembering details and schedules.
Often, these emotional triggers of memory loss can be improved by support, counseling, and lifestyle changes. Even just being aware ofand limiting exposure tothings that increase stress can help.
Looking For Epichaperomes In Alzheimers Disease
In the new study, Dr. Chiosis and her team analyzed brain tissue from people with Alzheimers disease. They compared these to tissues from people of the same age without Alzheimers. Higher numbers of chaperones banded into epichaperomes in brain tissue from people with Alzheimers compared with healthy brain tissue. These findings were validated in multiple mouse and cellular models of Alzheimers disease.
Alzheimers is a progressive neurodegenerative disease with complex causes. Many stressors can contribute to it, including diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and traumatic brain injury. Genetic risk factors and other age-related changes can also damage brain circuitry over decades. We decided to look at whether this complex matrix of stressors that change the brain is related to epichaperome formation, Dr. Chiosis says.
This turned out to be the case. Her team found that in the Alzheimers brain tissue, epichaperomes assisted the incorrect organization of many proteins required for normal brain function, including memory and higher-order executive function. Faulty disorganization of memory-related proteins seemed to cascade into defective communication between neurons. That disruption ultimately led to brain dysfunction.
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