Does Stress Cause Dementia?

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

A new study exploring the link between stress and dementia has been launched by the Alzheimer’s Society in the hope of finding new ways to prevent dementia or better ways to manage the condition.

The investigation, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, will monitor 140 people with mild cognitive impairment or “pre-dementia” and look at how stress affects their condition. The researchers will take blood and saliva samples at six-monthly intervals over the 18 months of the study to measure biological markers of stress.

Dementia triggers

Studies suggest that people who have mild cognitive impairment are at an increased risk of going on to develop Alzheimer’s and past work proposes mid-life stress may increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

A Swedish study that followed nearly 1,500 women for a period of 35 years found the risk of dementia was about 65% higher in women who experienced repeated periods of stress in middle age than in those who did not. Scottish scientists believe the link may be down to hormones the body releases in response to stress which affect brain function.

Professor Clive Holmes, from the University of Southampton, who will lead the study, said: “All of us go through stressful events. We are looking to understand how these may become a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s. This is the first stage in developing ways in which to intervene with psychological or drug-based treatments to fight the disease”.

Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We welcome any research that could shed new light on Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia. Understanding the risk factors for Alzheimer’s could provide one piece of the puzzle we need to take us closer to a treatment that could stop the disease in its tracks”.

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