Is chronic stress leaving you at risk of developing dementia?

According to an article I read in the Aged Care Report Card (HelloCare, 2017). In Australia, one person is diagnosed with dementia every six minutes. Fifty-five percent of these diagnoses affect Australian women. Are you at risk?

Scientists have found a significant link between severe stress in middle age and dementia. In a study done as part of the Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg, Sweden, 800 women participated in the study, from middle age to late life.

The study started in 1968, and the women were quizzed about common stressful situations or events, such as death of a spouse or child, divorce, serious illness, unemployment, abuse and lack of social support.

The women were followed over 38 years and examined for signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. At the end of the study, their findings were that one of of five of the participants had developed dementia (mostly Alzheimer’s).

Experts are starting to believe if you experience prolonged stress it damages your brain, which increases your chances of dementia.  Chronic stress increases the production of the hormones adrenalin and cortisol. When these hormones are increased, your blood pressure and blood sugar rise. While this is okay for a short period of time,  if this happens often, and for sustained periods of time, your brain is affected.

What part of your brain is affected? The hippocampus – which is the part of your brain responsible for memory. The amygdala – which controls your emotional responses. And the prefrontal cortex – which regulates your thinking.

Yes, I hear you say, the brain does create new brain cells. But increased cortisol levels reduce the speed they are created.

So how do you minimise your stress levels when we live in such a stressful world?

You don’t need to get rid of ALL stress – it would impossible anyway. Some stress is actually good for you. But chronic stress is not.

Here are some tips to help you manage your stress levels:

  • You can train your brain to look at the positives, not the negatives, in life.
  • Connection with family and friends is crucial. Strong ties keep us connected, and help us have fun, live in the present and relax
  • Be active! One of the best defences against dementia of any type is regular exercise. Not only does it help maintain normal hormonal balance, exercise releases serotonin and endorphins that help release your body’s natural pain killers and help enhance your mood.
  • Eat whole food, full of nutrition. Junk food isn’t food, it’s just junk. And much of the ‘healthy’ prepackaged food is full of nasties. Cook for yourself. If you don’t know how – learn, it’s pretty simple!
  • Sleep well – your body and your brain need to relax. You can listen to the recording of my Sleep is not a Luxury radio interview here to find out some tips on how to improve your sleep.
  • Keep your brain busy. Crosswords, sudokus, puzzles, learning new things like a language are all great for keeping your brain healthy.
  • The corollary to the above is to let your brain rest. Practising meditation, yoga, tai chi will really help calm the chatter.
  • And of course, LAUGH! You knew if was coming, didn’t you! Laughter does so many wonderful things for your physical, emotional and mental health – but one of the biggest benefits is that it is the best destressor you have. It costs, nothing, and you can do it alone anytime.

 

2 Comments Add yours
    1. HI Catherine, that’s terrific! I run a community class every Tuesday, 530-615pm, at St Mary Anglican Church, cnr Norton & Burnet Streets, Ballina (entry via Burnet St). Bring water (and friends!) and wear something comfortable. Gold coin donation if you can stretch to it, don’t worry if you can’t. Looking forward to seeing you there!

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