A new study has found that people with high stress levels are more likely than others to experience cognitive decline. This can affect their ability to concentrate, remember and learn new things.
The body can be affected by stress, which is linked to increased risk of stroke and poor immunity. Stress can lead to unhealthy habits like smoking or poor exercise.
The study published in JAMA Network Open on Tuesday found that people with high stress levels were more likely have uncontrolled cardiovascular risk factors, and to live a poor lifestyle.
Researchers found that people with high levels of stress were 37% more likely than those without these risk factors to have poor cognition.
Memory slips can cause stress in people who are struggling with them. The new study, which was co-authored by Dr. Ambar Kulshreshtha at Emory University, suggests that stress can have detrimental effects on cognition.
He said that stress can not only affect your current cognition but can also have long-term detrimental effects.
This new research was based on federally funded data that covered a long-term study to examine brain health disparities, particularly among Blacks and those who live in the "stroke belt" of the South. Participants were asked to complete a self-assessment about stress. They were also surveyed with a standard assessment of cognitive function. Regular check-ins took place for over a decade.
According to Dr. Amy Arnsten of Yale School of Medicine, the relationship between stress and cognitive function can be described as a "vicious cycle".
Arnsten said that stress-signaling pathways are released, and they quickly impair higher cognitive functions of prefrontal cortex, which includes working memory. Arnsten has previously studied how stress affects the brain, but was not part of this new study.
"With chronic stress, gray matter is actually lost in the prefrontal cortex. These are the exact areas that inhibit the stress response and the areas that provide insight into your need for help.
The new study found that elevated stress was associated with lower cognitive function in both Black and White individuals. However, Black participants reported greater levels of stress.
The study authors stated that black people are more likely to be exposed to discrimination and other chronic stressors. This finding suggests that cognitive decline is more likely when there are high levels of stress perceived.
Research has shown that Black adults are approximately 50% more likely than white adults to suffer a stroke. Additionally, older Black individuals are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or other dementia.
The study also found that stress levels increase with age. However, the relationship between stress and cognitive function was fairly consistent across ages. Participants ranged in age between 45 and 98 at the last assessment.
People with a family history are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. However, it is not the only risk factor.
There are around a dozen factors that can be modified to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Kulshreshtha stated that stress should be considered as one of these factors and that he and his colleagues advocate regular screenings in primary care settings for stress - and targeted interventions - in order to reduce this risk.
"There are very few treatments for dementia. They are also so costly and not easily available. Preventing dementia is the best approach,' Kulshreshtha stated.
Stress is all around us. There are ways to reduce stress.