Alzheimer’s disease risk in elderly due to mild cognitive impairment increases with stress

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Alzheimers | Monday, December 14, 2015 - 02:49 PM

Alzheimer’s disease risk in elderly due to mild cognitive impairment increases with stressAlzheimer’s disease risk in elderly due to mild cognitive impairment can increase with stress. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is part of the stages leading up to Alzheimer’s disease. In this stage symptoms of memory loss are noticeable but do not interfere with the person’s everyday life.

Mild cognitive impairment is when memory and cognitive abilities begin to diminish and is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Research suggests that 10 to 20 percent of seniors over the age of 65 have mild cognitive impairment. Other health conditions can contribute to mild cognitive impairment like depression. Overtime a person with mild cognitive impairment can progress into Alzheimer’s disease.

There are four main types of mild cognitive impairment: Amnestic, non-amnestic, single domain and multiple domain. Amnestic MCI is when memory is significantly impaired but other cognitive functions remain functioning. Non-amnestic MCI, on the other hand, is when memory remains but other areas of cognitive function become greatly reduced.

Single domain MCI is when only one aspect of cognitive function is reduced and multiple domain is when more than one aspect of cognitive function becomes impaired. Those with multiple domain MCI are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Chronic stress increases risk of amnestic mild cognitive impairment in elderly

Dementia risk higher in those with chronic conditionsA new study suggests that stress experienced by the elderly increased the risk of mild cognitive impairment – a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. The findings revealed that stressed elderly were twice as likely to become impaired compared to those who were not. Fortunately stress is a preventable and treatable condition revealing that it is possible to delay MCI in the elderly as long as they work on reducing stress.

Senior author, Richard Lipton, said, “Our study provides strong evidence 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, added, “Perceived stress reflects the daily hassles we all experience, as well as the way we appraise and cope with these events. Perceived stress 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.”

The researchers examined data collected from 507 people from the Einstein Aging Study (EAS) who were over the age of 70 and lived in Bronx County, NY. The participants underwent annual assessments to determine cognitive impairment and function.

The EAS developed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) to help measure stress as perceived over a time period.

Seventy-one participants were diagnosed with aMCI and the researchers noted that the greater the level of stress a person had was the higher the risk of developing aMCI. To confirm their findings the researchers accounted for other conditions like depression and they found that depression did not play a role or show a relationship as much as stress and MCI did.

Amnestic mild cognitive impairment, an Alzheimer’s risk, doubles risk of death

Previous research has found that Amnestic mild cognitive impairment doubles the risk of death. The researchers looked at 733 older adults who were all evaluated at baseline for cognitive ability. They were also tested for the APOE-4 gene variant which is a known factor to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers found that those with amnestic mild cognitive impaired had double the risk of death compared to those who didn’t. On the other hand, non-amnestic mild cognitive impairment did not show to increase the risk of death.

Senior author, Richard Lipton said, “”While there is no treatment for MCI, dementia or Alzheimer’s, these findings support the benefits of early detection and monitoring of cognitive impairment in order to prolong life.”

Effect of stress on memory and other cognitive functions

Stress not only increases the risk of amnestic mild cognitive impairment but it can play a role on other cognitive functions as well. Below are some of the findings that have emerged in the area of stress and cognitive function.

  • Netherlands study: long-term cortisol (stress hormone) impairs memory recall
  • University of California: Young adult rats who experienced early-life psychological stress had later-life cognitive impairment
  • German scientists: Stressed women had poorer recall on learned information

All of these studies point to stress impairing our cognitive function in alternative ways. Whether stress was induced for a short period of time, or chronically, it is clear that stress works negatively on our brains and can lead to cognitive impairment.

Treating mild cognitive impairment in elderly

QDRS testing for dementia developedCurrently mild cognitive impairment cannot be reversed or cured but rather it can be slowed down. A common form of treatment for MCI is to prescribe common Alzheimer’s drugs but numerous clinical trials have not shown much benefit from this practice.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle could be beneficial for someone living with MCI in order to better manage symptoms. Smoking should be stopped and alcohol consumption should be minimized as both substances can have negative affects on the brain. Exercise, too, has been shown to protect the brain against dementia along with eating a healthy diet.

Managing other medical conditions can also be beneficial in managing MCI like reducing blood pressure and cholesterol or managing diabetes.

Other tips to help manage MCI in the elderly include:

  • Taking medications as recommended by your doctor
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Keep with a regular daily routine to minimize memory problems
  • Use calendars, diaries, memos and reminders
  • Keep your mind active with puzzles or learning something new
  • Take time to relax
  • Get proper sleep
  • Stay social and keep a strong social network
  • Visit a memory support group

By following these tips and working closely with your doctor you can have better success in managing MCI and slowing your risk of dementia.

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