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Can Stress Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?

Posted Feb 03 2011 8:21pm
According to a recent article by Brain Mossop, in Scientific American, “A life of tension may hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s.”...

By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Mossop reviews several studies to see if environment can affect who gets Alzheimer’s.

The first study he mentions was in 2000 by Dr. Plassman at Duke University. She studied whether the disease always occurs simultaneously in identical twins to see if the disease is caused purely by genetics. Plassman’s study concluded that,

“While genetics accounts for much of the occurrence of Alzheimer’s Disease, it can’t explain everything. Other factors were at play . . .”

In 2010, a research group led by Mark Tuszynski at the Unversity of California, San Diego, did a study on monkeys to see how different environments affect the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Some monkeys were put in very small cages when they were young, while others were in larger cages. The monkeys in the small cages were unable to get enough exercise and released larger amounts of stress hormones. These stress hormones can reduce the number of nerve synapses. Upon study of the monkeys’ brains,

“Monkeys raised in smaller cages had, on average, a higher density of plaques and lower number of synapses, the same brain pathology seen postmortem in Alzheimer’s patients.”

In another study in March, 2010, Karim Alkadhi at the University of Houston led a research team so study the effects of stress on rodents in a water maze. Some rats were injected with amyloid peptides, while other rats were subjected to stress by placing an intruder rat in their home cage. The rats were divided into 4 groups to see the effects of the amyloid proteins and stress singly and combined.

“Only one group had difficulty learning the new task ( and remembering where it was located): the animals that received both the amyloid dose and were regularly stressed out.”

Neither chronic stress nor the amyloid dose alone affected long term memory. However,

“Chronic stress seems to push the at-risk [received the amyloid dose] animals over the edge, making them less likely to learn, and remember, new things.”

The study shows that stress is more than just an emotional problem. Stress can act like a trigger to activate other problems that may have, otherwise, passed innocuously unnoticed.

The entire article can be read here .

Max Wallack is a student at Boston University Academy. His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

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