Everyone handles stress differently—while one person might keep to themselves, someone else may seek refuge with friends. No matter how you cope, it’s important that you manage your stress in one way or another because, as a new study shows, it can lead to more severe psychological conditions. Researchers have discovered a connection between experiencing stressful events in middle age to being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
Researchers started this Alzheimer’s study in 1968 by surveying 800 middle-aged women (at least 38 years old) about their well-being and mental health in response to various stressful life events, like the death of a husband, a divorce, or an illness in the family. The researchers then did a follow-up survey with each woman once every decade for the next 37 years, along with assessments of the participants’ neuropsychiatric exams over the years.
By 2005, 104 of the women had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The findings revealed that for every stressor the women reported in 1968, their Alzheimer’s risk rose by approximately 20%. That’s not all—the women who experienced long-term stress were at a higher risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, regardless of how many stressful events they first reported. In other words, the women who weren’t able to effectively manage a stressful event were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
This is not to say that everyone who experiences a stressful life event like a death or divorce will get Alzheimer’s in 40 years—if that were the case, then every one of the participants would have ended up with Alzheimer’s. But the study does suggest that there is a link between stress and Alzheimer’s—stress, especially when managed poorly, can be one of several significant risk factors.
That being said, even the slightest chance that stress management can help to prevent Alzheimer’s is reason enough to take it seriously. Aside from an increased Alzheimer’s risk, prolonged feelings of extreme stress have been shown to lead to other physiological and mental conditions, including depression, high blood pressure, substance abuse, heart disease, and chronic migraines.
Tips for Managing Stress
• Hit the gym. When you’re stressed, your body is physically preparing itself to take action with the release of certain hormones. So, why not invest that energy into something productive, like a workout? It slows down the release of those hormones and can help clear your head, allowing you to get a start fresh.
• Write in a journal. Getting your feelings down on paper and seeing them in front of you is a good way to release thoughts and emotions that you might not feel comfortable talking about in person.
• Talk it out. Reach out to friends and family, who may be able to help you come up with a solution that you never thought of. Don’t be afraid to seek professional assistance if you feel that will help.
• Try meditation. It’s been used for centuries to help reduce anxiety and stress. The body has been shown to react positively to meditation by releasing certain hormones that cause relaxation.
• Set boundaries. Let yourself get worked up, but only for a certain length of time. Tell yourself, “I’m allowed to be upset about this for five minutes, and then I have to move on.” This prevents you from bottling up negative feelings that will just grow if you don’t deal with them.
Doyle, K., “Mid-life stress could be linked to Alzheimer’s: study,” GMA News web site, October 3, 2013; https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/329243/lifestyle/healthandwellness/mid-life-stress-could-be-linked-to-alzheimer-s-study.
Kitamura, M., “Stress in Midlife Linked to Higher Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease,” Bloomberg web site, September 30, 2013; https://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-30/stress-in-midlife-linked-to-higher-risk-of-alzheimer-s-disease.html.
Stöppler, M.C., “Stress,” MedicineNet web site; https://www.medicinenet.com/stress/article.htm, last accessed October 3, 2013.