British scientists investigate role of stress in Alzheimer's
A number of illnesses are known to develop earlier or to be exacerbated due to chronic stress, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis. However, scant research exists on the role chronic stress plays for those with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease.
One in three people over the age of 65 will die with dementia: research carried out by the British Alzheimer's Society shows that 800 000 people in the United Kingdom suffer from a form of dementia, and that more than half of these have Alzheimer's. In 10 years, a million people will be living with dementia, and this figure will soar to 1.7 million by 2051. It is therefore imperative that researchers gain a greater understanding of the disease if they are to find ways to hinder its development.
The study, funded by the Alzheimer's Society, is part of a GBP 1.5 million package of six grants being given by the charity. 'All of us go through stressful events. We are looking to understand how these may become a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer's,' said Clive Holmes, professor of biological psychiatry at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, who is leading the study. 'This is the first stage in developing ways in which to intervene with psychological or drug-based treatments to fight the disease.'
The study will start in the coming days, and during the following 18 months, researchers will monitor 140 people aged 50 and older who have mild cognitive impairment. The participants will be assessed for levels of stress and for any progression from mild cognitive impairment to dementia. About 60 % of people with mild cognitive impairment will develop Alzheimer's.
The participants in the trial will be compared to a group of 70 people without memory problems, who will be tested as a control group. All the people taking part will be asked to complete cognitive tests in order to track their cognitive health. Questionnaires will assess their personality type, their style of coping with stressful events and their perceived level of social support and mood.
The researchers will take blood and saliva samples every six months to measure biological markers of stress. Blood samples will measure immune function, and the saliva samples will track levels of cortisol, which is released by the body in response to chronic stress.
The process will be repeated after 18 months to measure any conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer's disease. 'There is a lot of variability in how quickly that progression happens; one factor increasingly implicated in the process is chronic stress,' said Professor Holmes. 'That could be driven by a big change - usually negative - such as a prolonged illness, injury or a major operation.'
The study will therefore examine 'two aspects of stress relief - physical and psychological - and the body's response to that experience', he explained. Professor Homes noted that 'something such as bereavement or a traumatic experience - possibly even moving home - is also a potential factor'.
'We feel this is a really important area of research that needs more attention,' said Anne Corbett, research manager for the Alzheimer's Society. 'The results could offer clues to new treatments or better ways of managing the condition. It will also be valuable to understand how different ways of coping with stressful life events could influence the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.'
For more information, please visit:
University of Southampton
Data Source Provider: University of Southampton
Document Reference: Based on information from the University of Southampton
Subject Index: Medicine, Health