Stress May Increase Risk of Alzheimer's
> 6/12/2007 11:11:07 AM

We have covered quite a few of the harmful effects of stress, so this new one shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Prolonged stress can do everything from increase your chance of heart attack to paralyze you with the reoccurring memories of PTSD. Now, according to a study by Dr. Robert Wilson published in today's issue of Neurology, stress can impair memory as well as make a never-ending nightmare out of it.

Wilson followed 1,256 unimpaired senior citizens for a period of twelve years after-which  38% showed signs of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI is the limbo diagnosis for thought and memory impairment less than dementia but greater than expected at the current age).  Researchers are concerned about predicting and preventing MCI because there is reasonable evidence that MCI can progress into Alzheimer's. At first, the link between MCI and Alzheimer's was solely a statistical one (10-15% of patients with amnesic MCI develop Alzheimer's), but Josephy Parisi at the Mayo Alzheimer's Disease Research Center has uncovered concrete evidence. Autopsies of MCI patients showed structural changes in the brain that fit with the predicted intermediary step between normalcy and the larger-scale changes of Alzheimer's.

Today's study found that there was a definite correlation between the amount of distress subjects reported and the likelihood of MCI. The reality of this link can be trusted because Wilson carefully debunked other seemingly-promising correlations. For example, it first appeared that depression might be causing MCI, but further analysis showed that this illusory link disappears if the parts of depression overlapping with stress are removed. There is, however, one side of the issue that was not adequately addressed: What if people in the early stages of MCI are more anxious because they are subconsciously aware of the subtle and disconcerting breakdown of their brains? Further research will ferret out these relationships, but until then, reducing stress for older people could be a worthwhile preventative measure to help stave off Alzheimer's.

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