Stress and Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects memory, thinking, behavior, and other cognitive functions. AD is caused by the accumulation of amyloid beta protein (Aβ) in brain cells. Aβ deposits are believed to result from abnormal tau proteins in nerve cells.
These abnormal proteins aggregate into plaques and tangles that damage neurons. Eventually, these damaged neurons die, causing the loss of memory and other cognitive abilities.
Research shows that stress worsens the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, stress appears to increase the risk of developing the condition.
Stress and the Brain
Stress affects the brain by changing levels of hormones and neurotransmitters. For example, when a person is stressed, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol. This causes chemical changes in the brain that lead to increased anxiety and fear.
The stress hormone cortisol has also been linked to the formation of plaques and tangles in the brain, which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. Animal studies show that stress hormones also break down memories.
Research has suggested that stress may also cause damage to the brain by lowering the production of a growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Aging and the Stress Response
As people get older, the brain’s stress response tends to decrease. This leads to greater vulnerability to the negative effects of stress. For example, older people don’t produce as much BDNF as they age.
In addition, the stress-response system becomes less responsive to signals in the brain. This is a normal part of the aging process.
As we age, our brain cells also lose some of their number. It is not clear if this is due to the negative effects of stress. However, it is known that many cells in the hippocampus (a region of the brain) are lost as people age.
This is a critical region for memory, and its degeneration is accelerated in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Stress also increases the risk of developing a psychiatric illness, such as anxiety or depression. These diseases can also appear at any age. However, they occur most often in middle age and older adults.
The following sections describe the links between stress, Alzheimer’s disease, and psychiatric problems.
Understanding the Link Between Stress and Alzheimer’s
Stress and brain chemicals: High levels of chronic stress , such as experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, tend to make the brain more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. This is partly due to the effects of stress on brain chemicals. For example, a severe stressor causes a release of large amounts of the stress hormone cortisol.
This tends to lower levels of BDNF in the brain. Also, stressors can cause a smaller, but longer-lasting, amount of cortisol to be released. This can have the effect of increasing levels of another harmful brain chemical called prostaglandin E2. (Prostaglandin E2 increases the amount of amyloid in the brain. High levels of amyloid are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. )
Increased anxiety, fear, and depression: People with Alzheimer’s tend to become increasingly anxious, fearful, and depressed. These negative emotions are also closely linked to the development of Alzheimers. This may be partly due to the effect of stress on the brain.
For example, stress can cause changes in brain chemicals such as serotonin, which is associated with regulating mood. People with Alzheimer’s often have lower levels of serotonin.
Possible link to the herpes virus: There is some evidence that the herpes virus may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. This is because some people with Alzheimer’s have a form of herpes virus in their nose or brain, even if they show no symptoms. Some research suggests that stress increases the risk that this type of virus will become active.
Also, some people who take the herpes drug acyclovir in order to reduce the symptoms of an active herpes infection seem to lower their risk of getting Alzheimer’s.
Understanding the Link Between Stress and Psychiatric Illnesses
Stress affects the development of psychiatric illnesses in several different ways.
Stress can lead to the development of anxiety and depression: The experience of acute stress or trauma can lead to the short-term development of anxiety or depression. For example, the traumatic events on September 11, 2001, led to a short-term increase in the number of people diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
Stress can be a factor in the development of psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Stress can increase the number and severity of manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder.
Stress increases the risk of suicide: People with psychiatric illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia are at greater risk of dying by suicide if they also experience a stressful life event.
Psychiatric illness and Alzheimer’s disease: Psychiatric illness such as depression can be a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This is because people who are depressed tend to have a less healthy lifestyle, including:
Eating a less healthy diet
Smoking more and being physically inactive
Having poor sleep habits
How Does Stress Affect the Way the Body Works?
Stress affects the body in many different ways. It can cause physical reactions such as an increased heart rate, or more serious reactions such as a risk of psychotic episodes if you have a psychiatric illness.
Acute stress: Acute stress is the body’s reaction to a dangerous or threatening situation. It evolved in humans as a way to keep us safe from physical harm. Acute stress activates a complex system of hormonal and nerve responses in the body that give you the energy to react to a dangerous situation.
The “fight or flight response” includes the sympathetic nervous system preparing the body for action. It activates the hypothalamus which releases a number of hormones that readies the sympathetic nervous system for action.
The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for action by:
Making the heart beat faster and harder.
Making the lungs breath faster.
Moving blood into the muscles.
Shutting down non-essential body systems, such as digestion.
Releasing stored sugars into the bloodstream for extra energy.
Releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Acute stress usually only lasts a short time. Once the danger has passed, the body returns to normal. Acute stress is generally a healthy and beneficial response to danger.
Prolonged stress: If the stress continues for a longer period of time, the processes that are shut down during the acute stress response start to take their toll. The body can no longer keep up normal functions and the immune system becomes weaker. Aches and pains develop, as do more serious conditions, such as infections and even heart attacks and other diseases.
Chronic stress: Prolonged or repeated activation of the stress response can have more serious and long-lasting effects on a person’s health. This can lead to mental and physical illnesses. Repeated or prolonged activation of the stress response is a risk factor for mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders, as well as physical illnesses such as heart disease.
Some people recover from acute stress: Most people experience a threatening situation and the body is able to return to normal after the stressful event. However, some people do not return to a normal state. Instead, the body stays in a semi-ready state.
This puts a great deal of strain on the body. People who experience long periods of stress are more likely to contract an illness or have a heart attack.
How Does the Body Respond to Stress?
The stress response has both physical and mental effects. The physical effects prepare the body to confront or flee from a threatening situation. The body releases a complex chemical mix of hormones and neurotransmitters that cause physical effects. These include:
An increase in the heart and breathing rate.
A rise in blood pressure.
A narrowing of mental focus.
Increased blood flow to the muscles.
The release of glucose, which is the body and brain’s main energy source.
Both physical and mental effects of stress result in a feeling of being alert. This helps people to either confront or flee from a threat. These effects also give people the energy required to do so.
What Are the Types of Stress?
Psychological stress: This type of stress can be caused by emotional factors. An example of this is the death of a spouse.
Commonly, people think of psychological stress as the most important type of stress. In the short term, this may be true. However, many people dismiss the importance of physical stresses, such as a lack of sleep or poor diet.
Many factors can cause stress, but these two are the most important.
Everyone responds differently to stress: Everyone experiences different types of stress. For example, some people may dislike their job, but other factors in their life may cause them not to worry about it.
Stressful events and changes tend to fall into five groups. These are:
Death and loss.
Some people are more prone to stress than others: Some people are better at handling stressful events than others. It is generally believed that both genetics and environment play a part in this. Some people are just more resilient and able to “bounce back” from stressful events better than others.
A particular stressor might cause one person to become ill, while it has little effect on someone else. Or a person may be more prone to illness after an event has occurred.
Stress can cause permanent changes in the brain: One of the main reasons that stress is linked to illness is because it can change the way the brain works. The way a person thinks, feels, and acts can change as a result of stress. These changes are believed to make a person more prone to illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Stress has a negative effect on the immune system: One of the most damaging effects of stress is on the immune system. The immune system’s main purpose is to defend the body against illness and infection.
When the immune system works properly, it quickly attacks and destroys viruses, bacteria, and other harmful microorganisms that cause illness. When the immune system is weakened, people become susceptible to illness. They are more likely to catch a cold or the flu, and may develop serious conditions such as cancer or AIDS.
When people experience long-term stress, the immune system becomes weakened. This makes the body more susceptible to illness and infection. As stress continues over a long period of time, people become more susceptible to health problems.
These may include heart disease, arthritis, digestive problems, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Stress can cause hormonal changes: Hormones are chemical substances that control the functioning of various systems in the body. They are produced by various organs, and are transported in the blood to other parts of the body. They control everything from growth and development to mood and behavior.
Stress can cause imbalances in the various hormones. For example, it may cause an increase in the level of the hormone cortisol. This can have a negative effect on the immune system, as well as other parts of the body.
Stress may also change the way some medications work. This can have a serious effect on people taking medication for illnesses such as schizophrenia, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. Anyone being treated for any type of chronic illness should consult their physician before making any major changes in their life.
Just as stress can cause hormonal changes, hormonal changes can also cause stress. For example, some women experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This is caused by hormonal changes that happen during the menstrual cycle.
Most women find that their mood worsens just before their period starts. They may feel more stressed and emotional than usual.
Stress can cause behavioral changes: People experience stress for many different reasons. Stress may be caused by a lack of sleep, traumatic events, or changes at work or in relationships.
Everyday hassles such as traffic jams and standing in long lines can also cause stress. These stresses are known as “catastrophic” or “dissonant” events. In other words, they are big enough to cause a lot of stress in a person’s life.
These events can have both positive and negative effects on a person’s life. Most of the time, however, their effects are negative.
Stress can affect a person’s behavior in many ways. It can cause people to act recklessly or do things they normally wouldn’t do under normal circumstances. This is sometimes known as “losing one’s temper.”
Stress can also affect a person’s thinking abilities. It can cause them to forget things or make silly mistakes that they wouldn’t normally do. For example, a person may be under a great deal of stress as he or she is getting ready to speak in public.
This stress may cause the person to forget what he or she was going to say.
Stress can also affect people’s ability to communicate. It can cause them to express their thoughts and feelings in an unclear way. In other words, they may say things in an angry or sad way that don’t really mean.
This is sometimes known as “losing your temper.”
Stress tends to affect people in different ways. Some people may become more quiet and introverted than usual. Others may become very angry and verbally or physically aggressive.
A few may even become violent and act in a criminal manner.
Stress can also increase a person’s use of alcohol or drugs. It can cause people to use more than they normally would. This is because many people try to “self-medicate” their problems with alcohol or drugs.
Stress can cause people to engage in self-destructive behavior. It can cause them to eat poorly, not get enough sleep, and lead a generally unhealthy lifestyle. This can lead to health problems later on in life.
Stress can be a factor in causing many different types of illnesses and conditions. For example, stress may worsen conditions such as heart disease, stroke, asthma, arthritis, and hormone imbalances. It can also increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
It is better to try to avoid stress, if possible. But, often this isn’t an option. When it is not possible to avoid stress, it is important to learn different ways of managing and coping with it.
This involves different types of “stress management.” One way is through physical activity. It is a good idea to try to exercise on a regular basis.
It is also a good idea to eat healthy foods and get a good night’s sleep every night.
There are several types of therapy that can help people deal with their problems. They include expressive, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and interpersonal therapy. It is most helpful to find a therapist that is the right “fit” with the patient.
The goal is to feel better and have more positive outlook on life.
Stress is a part of everyone’s life. By learning ways to better manage it, one can live a happier and healthier life.
Stress can have negative effects on a person’s life. It can cause physical, psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems. It is important to learn different ways of managing and coping with it.
There are many ways to do this, such as learning stress management techniques and seeing a mental health professional, such as a therapist.
Stress is a natural part of life. Everyone experiences it at some time in their lives. Some people experience it more often than others.
Some of the most common causes of stress are work, school, relationships, and money.
Stress can affect people in different ways. Some people may become quiet and introverted. Others may become angry and aggressive.
Some people may become withdrawn and unwilling to interact with others. Others may act out in harmful ways, such as lashing out at those around them.
Stress can cause people to develop a number of illnesses and conditions. It can disrupt the normal balance of hormones in the body and cause physical pain. It can also cause emotional distress and negative feelings, such as sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, and depression.
There is also evidence that stress can increase a person’s risk of developing certain types of cancer.
There is no exact science as to what amount and type of stress is bad for a person. This is because everyone has different ways of handling and dealing with stress. The amount of stress that a person can handle depends on several factors, such as personality and past experiences.
Some people may be able to handle more stress than others. Past experiences with certain types of stress can also influence how one handles particular situations. For example, a person may have had a bad experience the last time they tried to quit a certain bad habit. As a result, they may become very stressed when trying to stop this bad habit.
Stress can also be negative or positive. Negative stress is the harmful type of stress that can affect a person’s emotional and physical well-being. It can cause people to feel overwhelmed and result in anxiety, fear, and worry.
It can have a negative effect on one’s mind and body.
There are many ways of dealing with negative stress. It is important to learn healthy and positive ways of managing it. This can help minimize its harmful effects upon one’s life.
“Stress management” is the term used to describe the ways in which people cope with different types of stress in their lives. It is a way of regulating how one thinks, feels, and acts in situations that are causing them to feel overwhelmed or anxious.
There are several different ways that one can manage stress. They include:
Identifying stressors is a key part of the process in managing stress. “Stressor” is a word that refers to something that causes stress. Everyone has different things that cause them stress.
Some examples of stressors are major life changes, traumatic events, loss of a loved one, illnesses, and difficult relationships.
Learning to identify what things cause one to feel stressed is an important step toward managing stress. Once one discovers what their stressors are, they can learn to avoid and minimize negative feelings that these stressors cause. Stressors that are unavoidable can be more easily managed when one has strategies for coping with them.
Stress management is different for everyone. The best ways to manage stress are the ones that work for each individual. It is important to have a variety of ways to cope with stress so that in times of great stress, one has many options.
There are several different ways of managing stress. They include:
Stress management techniques should be based upon a foundation of good mental and physical health. This means getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and engaging in physical activity on a regular basis.
Another very important aspect of managing stress is to develop good emotional health. This involves things like being able to identify, express, and control one’s emotions. It also includes having positive relationships with others and enhancing one’s sense of personal autonomy, or sense of freedom to act.
For more detailed information about managing stress, contact your school counselor or your health care provider.
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