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Stress management may be key to heading off Alzheimer's
Taking care of yourself and cultivating joy may be effective strategies to prevent Alzheimer's disease, according to new research. - photo by Lois M. Collins
People who perceive they have a lot of stress have double the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, which vastly increases the odds of developing Alzheimer's later, says new research that also suggests stress management may protect against cognitive decline.

That's according to research from the Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, published Dec. 11 in the international journal Alzheimer's Disease and Associated Disorders. The findings were considered "robust," and could indicate a pathway to prevention by preventing or treating stress, the researchers said.

"Perceived stress reflects the daily hassles we all experience, as well as the way we appraise and cope with these events," said Mindy Katz, senior associate in the neurology department at Einstein and the study's first author, in a written 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports symptoms of Alzheimer's first appear in most adults after the age of 60 as risk increases as individuals age. It is known to be spurred by other factors such as family history and brain changes throughout life. Research into the correlation between the brain disease and education, diet and environment is ongoing," writes Marilyn Malara of

"Our study provides strong evidence that perceived stress increases the likelihood that an older person will develop a (mild cognitive impairment)," Dr. Richard Lipton, a senior study author and vice chairman of neurology at Einstein and Montefiore, said in a written statement. "Fortunately, perceived stress is a modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment, making it a potential target for treatment."

The study was based on data gathered for the Einstein Aging Study, which has since 1993 collected information from locals age 70 and older in Bronx County, New York. Besides physical examinations each year, participants also undergo memory and psychology tests, among other things. Analysis of how well they accomplish activities of daily living is done by the participant or someone close to them. Stress analysis has been part of it since 2005.

For this study, 507 individuals were followed, all of them free of any cognitive impairment at the start of the study. The researchers said they followed them an average of 3.6 years.

The stress level was scored on a 0 to 56 scale. For every five-point increase in the score, researchers noted a 40 percent increase in risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. They also said those at the highest perceived stress level were "more likely to be female and have less education and higher levels of depression."

Elizabeth Munoz, postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Psychology at University of California Riverside, told Medscape Medical News the finding "contributes to the growing evidence that psychological stress influences cognitive health."

Munoz was a researcher in a study that showed one's perception of stress "influences cognitive performance over a short timescale," she told Medscape, adding that the new study by Katz and associates "further adds to the chain of evidence that perceived stress may contribute to pathological outcomes over time."

Because depression is also linked to increased stress risk, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's, the researchers controlled for it, as well, and still found the link between perceived stress, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the Leonard and Sylvia Marx Foundation and Czap Foundation.