According to research published in the journal JAMA Network Open, people over the age of 45 with high levels of stress are 37 percent more likely to suffer from cognitive problems, such as memory and thinking problems, than those who don’t. they are stressed.
Over more than a decade, the study followed 24,448 people who were also participating in a long-term brain health study. Periodically, the researchers used standardized tests to determine each participant’s cognitive status.
In the self-assessment of stress levels —feelings or situations that exceed the capacity to cope with them—; about 23% of participants reported high levels of stress.
Stress is considered a natural reaction when a person is under pressure; in the short term, it can provide positive motivation. For example, you can push to finish a project or brake to avoid an accident.
However, chronic stress can lead to various physical and mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep problems, and more.
The findings of this study add cognitive problems to that list, as researchers determined that the risk of cognitive decline, also known as mild cognitive impairment or MCI, was highest among the most stressed participants, regardless of age, race or by sex.
The American Psychological Association (APA) noted that reducing stress should not only make us feel better now, but also protect our health in the long run. How to do this varies from person to person, but the APA said it starts with determining the cause of your stress and developing a plan for dealing with it.
Cognitive decline is the decline in cognitive function due to changes attributable to aging (Getty Images)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define cognitive impairment as a person who has difficulty remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that impact their daily life. Cognitive impairment ranges from mild to severe.
“The study could have important clinical applications, such as periodic stress screening among seniors at high risk for cognitive decline in primary care,” the researchers from Emory, Drexel, Alabama and Texas universities wrote in the paper.
Cognitive decline is also a key feature of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. However, the researchers have suggested further studies to explore the mechanisms underlying this observed association and to develop specific screening programs and interventions to reduce stress among older adults at risk for cognitive decline.
“More research is needed to explore the mechanisms underlying this observed association and to develop specific screening programs and interventions to reduce stress among older adults at risk for cognitive decline,” they concluded.
12 habits to reduce the risk of cognitive decline
According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, there are 12 habits to reduce the risk of dementia in people of any age, especially in the last third of life.
1- Get at least seven hours of sleep a night
2- Challenge your brain regularly
3- Take care of mental well-being
4- Stay socially active
5- Take care of your hearing
6- Follow a balanced diet
7- Stay physically active
8- Stop smoking
9- Drink responsibly
10- Maintain a healthy cholesterol level
11- Maintain a healthy blood pressure
12- Manage diabetes in the best possible way
Scientists hope that by raising awareness of risk factors, which change as people age, steps can be taken to reduce the chances of contracting the disease. In fact, this type of disease has become people’s ‘biggest fear’ of ageing, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK medical director Professor Jonathan Schott.
And while a growing number of people are undergoing genetic tests to find out the chances of developing some type of cognitive disorder, specialists “increased public awareness of lifestyle changes could reduce cases by tens of thousands a year” .
The role of positive close relationships in the fight against stress
According to recent research, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, social ties are essential for managing stressful situations, which implies a better physiological functioning of the different systems of the body.
The analysis revealed that both positive and negative experiences in our social connections contribute to daily stress and the way we handle it and its physical manifestations, expressed in blood pressure and heart rate. It’s also not just how we feel about our relationships in general that matters; but the ups and downs are also important.
From analyzing the data, the researchers found that, on average, people with more positive and fewer negative experiences reported lower stress, better coping skills, and systolic blood pressure responsiveness, leading to higher physiological functioning in daily life.
Conversely, variability, or the daily ups and downs resulting from negative bonding experiences such as conflicts, were particularly predictive of negative outcomes on the same indices.
“This study should not be interpreted as evidence that relationship experiences have physiological effects. Instead, the findings contain associations from everyday life that illustrate how relationships and physical health are often intertwined.”