Study: Chronic Stress Could Increase Risk of Dementia

Woman with her head down at deskChronic stress poses serious risks to many mental health conditions, including depression, but it can also increase the risk of dementia, according to a study published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry.

According to the American Psychological Association’s 2014 Stress in America survey, the average American ranks their stress level as 4.9 on a 10-point scale. Thirty-two percent report being sad, depressed, or overwhelmed. Money was the most common source of stress, with 64% of respondents ranking this issue as “very” or “somewhat” important. Seventy-two percent of respondents report at least some money stress, and 22% report extreme financial stress. Other common sources of stress included work, the economy, family responsibilities, and health.

Stress and Mental Health Implications

To explore the effects of stress on brain structure and function, researchers looked at a number of recent studies examining fear, anxiety, and stress in animals. The review also included studies involving brain scans exploring the effects of stress on humans.

The team found that long-term, chronic stress impacted the brain’s hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala. In chronically stressed humans and animals, the amygdala—which is implicated in emotional regulation—became overactive, while the prefrontal cortex—which plays a key role in cognition and emotional regulation—became less active.

Damage to these brain regions can lead to a number of mental health concerns, including depression and dementia. The researchers note these issues only appeared with chronic stress, rather than everyday stress associated with studying for a test or working a long day.

Is it Possible to Reverse Stress-Related Brain Damage?

The study’s authors suggest more research is needed to assess whether interventions such as therapy, stress reduction, or antidepressants can reverse brain damage associated with chronic stress. Some research shows antidepressants and physical therapy can partially reduce stress-related brain damage, with some evidence suggesting therapy may also help. In 2015, another study linked transference-focused psychotherapy with brain changes in people with borderline personality.

References:

  1. Mah, L., Szabuniewicz, C., & Fiocco, A. J. (2016). Can anxiety damage the brain? Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 29(1), 56-63. doi:10.1097/yco.0000000000000223
  2. Stress in America: Paying with our health. (2015, February 4). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2014/stress-report.pdf

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  • Bess

    Bess

    January 27th, 2016 at 11:30 AM

    Seeing something like this , this is a real wake up call for me. There are days when it feels like my life is nothing but stress all the time, and it makes me stop and think what am I doing to myself that I might not be able to undo later one?
    Yeah, it might be time to wake up and smell the coffee, time to start taking care of myself for real. And letting go of much of that worry that plagues me every day.

  • Tate

    Tate

    January 27th, 2016 at 2:58 PM

    Breathing techniques are a great way to release stress and anxiety in your life. There are so many things that you can try to make for a calmer life but this is the one that tends to work the best for me. I think that if you become mindful of the things that are actually bringing you the most stress in your life, if you can discover a way to get past those and fulfill them in a more positive way then you will feel so much better.

  • Bellamy

    Bellamy

    January 28th, 2016 at 8:10 AM

    I am so glad that new information like this is finally being looked at with an objective eye, and with the assessment that there are probably little things that we can do all throughout life to either prevent this from happening with us or to at least slow the progression

  • Jane

    Jane

    January 28th, 2016 at 9:36 PM

    “antidepressants . . . can partially reduce stress-related brain damage” . . .

    Oh really? LOL..way to sell more brain-DAMAGING medications.

  • virginia

    virginia

    January 29th, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    The hard part about all of this is that I think that there are a lot of people out there who do not like to admit that we actually do have a little control over our lives and our own health.
    This is not something that is always predestined and written in stone. There are actions that we can or maybe cannot take that will determine our health and our wellness throughout our lifetimes.
    I think that for many they find it far easier to sit back and do the things that feel good to them in the moment without ever admitting that this could be detrimental to them in the future. That would mean that they were maybe having to do some things that they do not like and well, they would just rather be totally hands off and blame it all on something that is out of their control.

  • renee

    renee

    January 30th, 2016 at 2:37 PM

    See? Money could be the root of all things evil if we all spend this much of our time worrying about it

  • davis

    davis

    January 31st, 2016 at 5:50 PM

    I have always been pretty aware of the physical and emotional toll that stress can have on one, but no clue that it can also impact true brain functioning.

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