We all experience stress throughout our lives.
Stress can be good; it warns us when something is wrong and can help motivate us to succeed.
What we also know about stress is that it can put us at risk of other health complications, like issues with our digestion and increases in our blood pressure.
Stress has also been proposed as a potential risk factor for dementia.
Some studies have shown that people who report stress consistently throughout their mid-life, may be at greater risk of developing dementia later in their life.
Similarly, people who experience acutely traumatic experiences, such as natural disasters, also appear at greater risk of dementia. However, the mechanism through which stress affects dementia risk isn’t fully understood.
When your brain detects a stressful situation, it releases a hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol helps your brain and body adapt to the stressful situation. This is helpful for your recovery, but if cortisol is produced in excess and/or for too long this can be harmful.
In this context, cortisol appears to be important in dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. People living with Alzheimer’s disease reportedly have higher levels of cortisol than people not living with Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition, Alzheimer’s disease appears to progress more rapidly in people who have higher levels of cortisol.
Work under way at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre is exploring mechanisms by which cortisol impacts the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, in the hope of identifying new approaches for counteracting the effects of stress therapeutically.
Researchers also think that stress may have an indirect relationship to dementia risk.
For example, it is well established that stress can increase your blood pressure. It is also established that increased blood pressure may put you at risk of cardiovascular disease.
Both high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are risk factors themselves for developing dementia. So, reducing your stress may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, it may help reduce your blood pressure, which in turn may help reduce your risk of dementia.
Stress cannot be completely avoided, but managing our stress can be very beneficial to our overall physical and mental health.
Here are some ways to manage stress and hopefully prevent some of the damaging effects it could have on your health and brain.
- Focus on what you can control in a situation, not what you can’t
- Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Lack of restful sleep makes it harder to handle higher order mental activities such as processing information and reasoning.
- Manage your workload. Make a list so you can see what you need to accomplish and to help reduce any feeling of being overloaded
- Ask for help. Reach out to a family member, friend or colleague for help to manage a problem or task
- Strive for a healthy response to stress. A certain amount of stress is inevitable in life and can be helpful. Don’t try to eliminate stress but try to look for a healthy response to stressful situations
- Contributed by Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre.