Study Links Alzheimer's Disease To Stress

Megan Ray  |  October 15, 2015

Stress doesn't go away after retirement. A report published by the Social Security Administration's Office of Retirement and Disability Policy said that the decision to leave the workforce can be a great cause of stress. Monetary concerns and reliance on government support may cause previously financially independent people to feel depressed and anxious. Often, the focus of discussions around retirement concern increased leisure time and other emotional benefits, but it's not uncommon for people to experience some distress and boredom after disconnecting from a busy working life.

Stars and Stripes reported that veterans of the Vietnam War might experience increased symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder after retirement. 

When speaking to the source, the Vietnam Veterans of America's director of health council, Tom Berger, said, "A lot of people coped with the traumatic experiences in war by throwing themselves into work when they got home."

Now that many of the war's veterans are reaching retirement age, they have fewer responsibilities to distract them from painful memories.

These are only two examples of stress inducers that could affect seniors, but they are enough to demonstrate the fact that life for older adults is no less stressful than it is for other age demographics. The side effects of this stress can have a negative impact on many aspects of a person's health, and some of those problems have been discussed on the Sunrise blog previously. Now, new research indicates that stress may also be linked to Alzheimer's disease.

Does stress lead to Alzheimer's disease?
Researchers from the University of Florida recently published the results of their studies into certain chemical processes that could connect stress to Alzheimer's. The findings boil down to a chain of chemical events that occur in the brain, beginning with a hormone called corticotrophin, which is released during stressful experiences. That in turn causes production of amyloid beta, a protein fragment that sticks to other fragments and causes brain degeneration.

More research is necessary to determine ways to block these harmful chemicals, but until then it might be worthwhile to attempt to ease stress factors in the lives of those at risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Stress also affects caregivers
A senior caregiver is also at risk of increased day-to-day stress levels. A study conducted by researchers at Walden University stated that caregivers experience high levels of stress surrounding their daily responsibilities. Caregivers also often have inadequate forms of support and lack significant resources to cope with emotionally difficult situations. The study found that as caregivers increased in age, their stress levels rose - most of the study's participants expressed a desire for more resources and education about how to become a better caregiver.

Taken together, all of this information indicates that seniors and their caregivers could benefit from increased support and knowledge about stress and stress management.

How to deal with stress
Here are a few ways that seniors and caregivers can handle stress when it starts to become a problem:

  • Breathing
    According to the University of Texas, high stress levels can cause shallowness of breath. This decreases oxygen in the bloodstream and causes muscles to tighten. Breathing slowly and deeply for a minute or two will help release this tightness and calm stressed nerves.
  • Talking
    Comfortable communication between seniors and caregivers is extremely important. Seniors should be able to talk about the things that are causing them to feel stressed. Likewise, caretakers need speak out about environmental or interpersonal matters that are adding to their stress levels.
  • Exercise
    The American Academy of Family Physicians recommended exercising as a proactive way to handle stress. Not only is it a healthy activity for your body, but the chemicals released during physical exertion have a positive effect on mood and temperament.

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