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Stress In Older Adults May Increase The Risk Of Alzheimer's Disease

First Posted: Dec 13, 2015 07:29 PM EST

Stress may increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment in older adults, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System found that individuals who are prone to higher levels of stress are twice as likely to experience cognitive impairment.

"Our study provides strong evidence that perceived stress increases the likelihood that an older person will develop aMCI [amnestic mild cognitive impairment], said lead author Dr. Richard Lipton, in a news release. "Fortunately, perceived stress is a modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment, making it a potential target for treatment."

During the study, researchers analyzed data from 507 adults 70 and older who were enrolled in the Einstein Aging Study in Bronx County, NY.

Participants' stress levels were evaluated with the help of the Perceived Stress Scale, which has been used since 2005. They were given scores ranging from zero to 56, with higher numbers indicating higher levels of perceived stress and tracked for an average of 3.6 years.

Among the participants, 71 were diagnosed with amnestic mild cognitive impairment. The findings also revealed that for every 5 points a person scored under the scale, the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 30 percent. 

"Perceived stress reflects the daily hassles we all experience, as well as the way we appraise and cope with these events," concluded co-author Mindy Katz in a statement. "Perceived stress can be altered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive-behavioral therapies and stress-reducing drugs. These interventions may postpone or even prevent an individual's cognitive decline."

The study is published in the journal Alzheimer's Disease and Associated Disorders.

Each year, approximately 470,000 Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer's dementia. Many first experience mild cognitive impairment--a pre-dementia condition that significantly increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's in the following months or years, according to the study. 

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