How chronic stress may increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease

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Karolinska Institutet researchers have recently explored the relationship between chronic stress, depression, and the development of Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment, shedding light on potential risk factors for these conditions.

In a study published in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, researchers underscored that people aged 18 to 65, who had previously been diagnosed with chronic stress and depression, showed a higher likelihood of later being diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease compared to others without such a history.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting a rising number of people in Sweden, which currently sits at around 160,000, in line with increasing life expectancy.

Here’s the key takeaway: people who have faced chronic stress or depression are more at risk of Alzheimer’s, with the risk being more than double compared to those without such conditions.

Even more striking, when an individual has experienced both chronic stress and depression, their risk elevates up to four times.

The likelihood of developing cognitive impairment, which involves difficulties with memory and thinking skills, showed a similar increase.

Why This Matters: The Unseen Impact of Stress and Depression

Understanding the way chronic stress and depression relate to cognitive impairments is crucial for several reasons.

Firstly, it allows us to recognize and possibly prevent these conditions more effectively, by addressing potential risk factors early on.

Secondly, these findings may allow for advancements in preventative efforts and help understand connections with other risk factors for dementia.

Axel C. Carlsson, docent at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences, and Society at Karolinska Institutet and the last author of the study, emphasizes caution.

He notes, “The risk is still very small and the causality is unknown.” Nevertheless, it’s vital because it enhances our ability to bolster preventative actions and comprehend associations with other dementia risk factors.

How Was the Study Conducted?

Researchers dug into Region Stockholm’s administrative health care database, which encompasses all health care interactions compensated by the region.

They zeroed in on individuals aged 18 to 65 from 2012 to 2013, identifying 44,447 people with a diagnosis of chronic stress and/or depression.

Over the subsequent eight years, they observed how many among them were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

When compared to the other 1,362,548 individuals in the same age bracket, a higher number of people with chronic stress or depression were also diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

Despite these findings, Dr. Carlsson emphasizes that it is remarkably rare for people in this age group to develop dementia, stating, “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.”

He adds that while the diagnosis is more common in those who have experienced chronic stress or depression, further studies are essential to establish any causality.

Looking ahead, researchers aim to forge ahead with their work, developing questionnaires and cognitive tests to assist in early identification of individuals at risk of dementia, thereby paving the way for earlier interventions and, hopefully, better outcomes for those at risk.

This research underlines the intricate relationships between mental health and cognitive functioning, reaffirming the importance of exploring potential links and risk factors for the betterment of future healthcare and preventative strategies.

If you care about Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies that bad lifestyle habits can cause Alzheimer’s disease, and this new drug may help treat Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about a new early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, and results showing this brain problem can increase risk of stroke for up to five years.

The research findings can be found in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.

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