Chronic stress linked to two-fold risk of Alzheimer's disease
Chronic stress can take a sizeable toll on the body, including higher risks of obesity, graying hair, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And it appears it may be just as damaging to our brains.
Using Region Stockholm’s healthcare database, Karolinska Institutet researchers looked at 44,447 patients aged between 18 and 65, who were added to the system in 2012-2013 and diagnosed with chronic stress and/or chronic depression. Chronic stress is considered any stress in which symptoms persist for six months or more.
After eight years of monitoring, the patients with chronic stress were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, or some form of cognitive impairment, compared to cohort of 1,362,548 individuals in the same age range. If the chronic stress was coupled with depression, the risk shot up to four-fold.
“The risk is still very small and the causality is unknown,” said study author Axel C. Carlsson, from the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet. “That said, the finding is important in that it enables us to improve preventative efforts and understand links with the other risk factors for dementia.”
Previous studies have suggested an association between chronic stress, depression and dementia. This research shows that people who have chronic stress were more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease within the following decade. It's also concerning given the reasonably young age span of those studied.
“It’s very uncommon for people in this age group to develop dementia, so we need to identify all possible risk factors for the disease,” says Dr Carlsson. “We show here that the diagnosis is more common in people who have suffered chronic stress or depression, but more studies will be required if we’re to demonstrate any causality there.”
While it doesn't show causality, and does not take into account other lifestyle behaviors, it does highlight both a need to address both immediate health concerns – chronic stress, depression – and to develop ways to monitor at-risk individuals for early signs of cognitive decline.
It also shines a light on the importance of identifying and treating chronic stress, as well as thinking of it as a serious health condition, not just an unavoidable aspect of day-to-day life.
The study was published in the journal Alzheimer's Research & Therapy.
Source: Karolinska Institutet