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Stress May Increase Your Alzheimer’s Risk; Take Steps to Reduce It

May 6, 2020

A large new study found that stress-related disorders are tied to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The findings lend further proof to what doctors have long suspected: stress is bad for the brain. They also underscore the potential importance of stress relief in helping to mitigate the onset of Alzheimer’s, a consideration that may be particularly compelling as all of us deal with the ongoing fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

Earlier studies have suggested that stress is bad for brain health. Combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, have an increased of developing dementia. But this study was conducted among a large swath of men and women in the general population who were living in Sweden.

For the study, researchers looked at 61,748 men and women who had been given a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder or other stress-related conditions between 1987 and 2008. They followed them over many years, comparing them with nearly 600,000 of their peers who had not been given a stress-related diagnosis. The researchers also compared 44,839 of those with a stress-related condition to 78,482 of their brothers and sisters who did not have a stress disorder.

The researchers found that those with a stress disorder were at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease years later. They did not find a link between stress and other degenerative brain disorders like Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The findings highlight how life stress may affect the brain long term. Chronic stress can cause body-wide inflammation, and increasingly scientists think inflammation may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic conditions. Studies have shown that chronic stress can lower the immune system, making us more vulnerable to colds and other infectious diseases.

How we cope with stress can also affect our lifestyle behaviors, such as smoking, not sleeping well or consuming an unhealthy diet, which may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Stress reduction is therefore critical for general health, including brain health. There are many steps you can take to help reduce stress levels, studies show. Among them are the following.

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Huan Song, MD, PHD; Johanna Sieurin, MSc; Karin Wirdefeldt, MD; et al: “Association of Stress-Related Disorders With Subsequent Neurodegenerative Diseases.” JAMA Neurology, March 9, 2020

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