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Stress Leads To Alzheimer's Risk In Middle-aged Women, Says Study

A new study revealed that stressful life events such as divorce, death of a loved one or losing a job may lead to a decline in memory and increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease among the middle-aged women.

The study findings were published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry Journal, which showed that stress hormones play an imbalanced gender role in brain health and are linked to higher rates of Alzheimer's disease in women than men [1] .

The researchers say that if future studies demonstrate that stress response does cause dementia, then strategies designed to combat or moderate the body's chemical reactions to stress may prevent or delay the onset of cognitive decline.

"We can't get rid of stressors, but we might adjust the way we respond to stress, and have a real effect on brain function as we age," says Cynthia Munro, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

For the study, Munro and her team used the data collected on over 900 participants, 63 % of the participants were women aged 47.

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According to the Alzheimer's Association, 1 in 6 women above 60 will suffer from Alzheimer's disease compared to 1 in 11 men. Currently, there are no treatments that prevent the progression of the disease.

Ongoing stress levels may have a negative impact on the proper functioning of the brain. "A normal stress response causes a temporary increase in stress hormones like cortisol, and when it's over, levels return to baseline and you recover. But with repeated stress, or with enhanced sensitivity to stress, your body mounts an increased and sustained hormone response that takes longer to recover," said Munro.

Munro further added that, "We know if stress hormone levels increase and remain high, this isn't good for the brain's hippocampus -- the seat of memory."

Munro said that medications are being developed to fight how the brain handles stress levels, and may be used with other behavioural stress-coping techniques to lower the impact of stress on ageing minds.

According to Alzheimer's Disease International reports, around 44 million people live with Alzheimer's disease worldwide.

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View Article References
  1. [1] Cynthia A. Munro, Alexandra M. Wennberg, Nicholas Bienko, William W. Eaton, Constantine G. Lyketsos, Adam P. Spira.Stressful life events and cognitive decline: Sex differences in the Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area Follow‐Up Study.International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 2019;
Story first published: Tuesday, August 13, 2019, 19:00 [IST]
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