Stress can often make one feel flustered and forgetful, but can the long-term effects lead to advanced cognitive impairment and poor memory? That’s what researchers in the U.K. are attempting to find out in an ambitious study that seeks to find new ways of preserving cognitive function and memory. The study will monitor 140 individuals who already have mild cognitive impairment over 18 months. The scientists will take regular blood and saliva samples, looking for stress markers to determine if stress has any effect on their condition.
Traumatic Events Are Potential Stress Factors
Previous studies indicate that midlife stress may increase risk of cognitive impairment. A Swedish study conducted on about 1,500 women found that subjects who had repeated periods of middle-age stress had a 65% higher risk of developing cognitive impairment. Animal research led Scottish scientists to theorize that it’s the release of certain hormones during stress that interfere with normal brain function. Traumatic events—such as the death of a loved one—put people through greater amounts of stress, which could possibly trigger the release of greater amounts of hormones that impair brain function.
Finding Out the Cause Before the Solution
Scientists hope that by understanding the physical and psychological symptoms that accelerate cognitive impairment, it will help them manage the condition in patients more effectively. Because the human brain is so complex, any single or combination of symptoms may be early indicators of greater risk ahead. But by watching out for these red flags now, we may be able to apply this useful knowledge in helping thousands of others in the near future.
- Roberts, M. “Role of Stress in Dementia Investigated.” BBC News. Jun 2012. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18577326.
- Johansson, L. et al. “Midlife psychological stress and risk of dementia: a 35-year longitudinal population study.” Brain. 2010. 133 (8):2217-2224.