How stress can undermine the cognitive benefits of an active lifestyle

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Experts say meditation and other relaxation techniques can help reduce stress. THAIS RAMOS VARELA/Stocksy
  • Cognitive stimulation and personal relationships may protect against dementia, but stress may undermine that protection, researchers report.
  • Sources of stress can include acting as a caregiver as well as dealing with cognitive decline itself.
  • Experts say stress management techniques should be part of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease prevention and care.

Stress may undermine lifestyle factors known to improve cognition in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to a new study.

In one STUDY published in the journal Alzheimer’s & DementiaResearchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden report that the cognitive benefits associated with stimulating and rewarding life experiences can be reduced by physiological and psychological stress.

These results may have clinical implications as a growing body of research suggests that mindfulness exercises and meditation can lower cortisol levels and improve cognition, said Manasa Shanta Yerramalla, PhD, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Neurobiology. , Care of the Karolinska Institute. Science and Society, in a statement. Various stress management strategies may be a good complement to existing lifestyle interventions in Alzheimer’s prevention.

The past studies have shown that the strong cognitive reserve index (CRI) results appear to have a protective benefit against cognitive decline among people with Alzheimer’s disease.

These CRI scores are tabulated through stimulating and cognitively enriching life experiences, as well as factors such as higher education attainment, complex jobs, ongoing physical and leisure activities, and healthy social interactions.

In recent research, the relationship between CRI scores, cognition, and biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in 113 participants from the memory clinic at Karolinska University Hospital was examined along with perceived stress levels in combination with biomarkers for psychological stress, namely cortisol levels. in saliva. .

The study concluded that while higher CRI scores were associated with better cognition, adjustment for cortisol measures reduced this beneficial association.

Higher CRI scores were also associated with better working memory in individuals with healthier cortisol levels, but not in individuals with cortisol levels indicating a high level of psychological stress.

Dr. Logan DuBose, a resident physician at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and chief operating officer at senior care company Olera, who was not involved in the new study, said Medical News Today that chronic stress, which can be caused by a variety of factors including caregiving responsibilities, can lead to elevated cortisol levels. This can damage the hippocampus, the brain center associated with memory formation, and negate the benefits of cognitive reserve and neuroplasticity, potentially worsening dementia symptoms.

A complex profession such as a pilot, medical professional or financial analyst can help build a cognitive reserve, noted Irv Seldin, owner and CEO of senior care company Visiting Angels, but high levels of ongoing stress of these occupations may also lead to increased cortisol levels that may implicate an increased risk of dementia.

To maintain healthy cognitive function, people in these complex occupations should maintain stress management strategies such as meditation, exercise or therapy in order to reduce the risk of advancing cognitive decline, said Seldin, who was not involved. in study. Medical News Today. Stress reduction is a popular approach to managing the symptoms and behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease. We teach our caregivers to create a calm and peaceful environment to keep our clients at ease.

Engaging in mentally stimulating activities can help strengthen neural pathways and improve memory, problem-solving and communication skills in people with cognitive decline, added Angela Morrell, a speech-language pathologist at Georgetown University Hospital. For example, language-based activities such as storytelling, word games, or discussions of current events can be excellent tools to use with memory clinic patients.

The impact of stress on cognition is important to consider, said Morrell, who was not involved in the study. Medical News Today. Chronic stress can negatively affect memory and communication in people with dementia. As speech-language pathologists, we often include stress management techniques in our therapy plans, such as relaxation exercises or mindfulness practices. Furthermore, understanding how to better manage stress in conjunction with cognitive stimulation programs would be valuable in creating personalized treatment plans aimed at improving quality of life for people with dementia.

The new study was limited by its small sample size and the fact that sleep deprivation known to impair cognition was not fully controlled for, except to ascertain whether participants were taking sleep medication.

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