A new study from Karolinska Institutet has found a potential link between chronic stress, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. The study, conducted by researchers at the institute, discovered that individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 who had previously been diagnosed with chronic stress and depression were more likely to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease compared to those without these conditions.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in Sweden, affecting approximately 160,000 people. As life expectancy increases, so does the number of individuals with dementia, making it vital to identify additional risk factors for the disease. Previous studies have hinted at a connection between chronic stress, depression, and dementia, but this study provides further evidence to support this association.
The research revealed that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was more than twice as high in individuals with chronic stress or depression compared to those without these conditions. For individuals with both chronic stress and depression, the risk increased up to four times higher. The risk of cognitive impairment also showed a similar increase in those with chronic stress or depression.
It is worth noting that the increased risk is still relatively small, and the exact causal relationship between chronic stress, depression, and dementia is not yet fully understood. However, these findings can help improve preventative efforts and contribute to a better understanding of the various risk factors for dementia.
The study utilized Region Stockholm’s administrative healthcare database, which includes all healthcare contacts covered by the region. The researchers specifically focused on individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 from 2012 to 2013. They identified 44,447 individuals with a diagnosis of chronic stress and/or depression and monitored them for eight years to track the development of mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.
When comparing the results with over 1.3 million individuals in the same age group, they discovered a higher prevalence of mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease among those with chronic stress or depression.
Dr. Axel C. Carlsson, a docent at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society at Karolinska Institutet and the last author of the study, emphasized the importance of identifying all potential risk factors for dementia, particularly in younger age groups where dementia is less common. While the study highlights a higher prevalence of dementia in individuals with chronic stress or depression, further research is necessary to establish any causal relationship.
Moving forward, the researchers plan to develop questionnaires and cognitive tests that can aid in the early identification of individuals at risk of developing dementia. The study was funded by Region Stockholm and conducted in collaboration with the Academic Primary Care Centre (APC). These findings contribute to the growing body of knowledge surrounding dementia and provide valuable insights for future research and preventative measures.