Jun 20, 2011

Stress Intensifies Alzheimer's Disease

Stress impacts our health negatively. This is true of Alzheimer’s disease. Does the reduction of stress explain why certain apsects of Alzheimer's disease have progressed more slowly in my mother, Dotty, than might have been expected?

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I read the research below with great interest. I am remembering when I first moved to Delray Beach to take care of Dotty, any little thing could trigger her anger and angst. It became clear to me that Dotty's greatest fear was that she was going to be put into a "home". In fact, this was a life long fear.

The people that know us, and even many of the long time readers on the Alzheimer's Reading Room, remark that Dotty seems calmer, happier, and in some ways, more aware now than she was several years ago.

I don't want to mislead. Dotty's memory continues to deteriorate. And, she is finding it harder and harder to do things like buttons and put on her own cloths. On the other hand, she is clearly happier and more secure (most of the time).

So I sit here wondering. Did the build up of stress inside of Dotty explain why she was so wild and "crazy" when I first moved to Delray Beach? Did the reduction of stress through the stable daily program I designed, reduce her stress, and as a result, make it easier for me to care for her.

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Many of us believe that Alzheimer's patients feel our "vibes". If we are angry or frustrated they can tell, but they can't say, why are your frustrated, why are you angry. I think most of us learn that if we "act out" much the same as we do in the "real world", our Alzheimer's patient will be less cooperative and harder to deal with.

This all falls into a broad category of stress. Caregiver stress, patient stress.

So I have to ask myself, is part of the reason that Dotty is the way she is today, able to read, and interact a direct reflection on the reduction of stress in her life?

Did this stress reduction slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease in my mother?

I would have to say, yes.

I'll write more about my thoughts on this soon.

Stress Intensifies Alzheimer Disease

Mental stress has a negative impact on our health and induces numerous diseases. That this is also true of Alzheimer’s disease, is shown in a study of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich.

In rats, the scientists were able to demonstrate that chronic stress starts up the molecular processes leading both to formation of the neurotoxic beta-amyloid protein and to phosphorlyation of the tau-protein.

Both processes characterize the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease and are the starting point for the development of pathological beta-amyloid containing plaques on neurons and tau-proteinaceous fibrils causing destruction and finally death of nerve cells. This leads to cognitive impairment and amnesia in the persons concerned. In the animal experiments, too, stressed rats show a marked memory decline.

Due to these findings, the authors conclude that stress intensifies the early pathological processes of Alzheimer’s disease and is possibly also involved in triggering them. Reduction of stress might thus have at least a decelerating effect on the development of the disease.

World-wide, approximately 36 million people are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the best-known form of dementia. The persons affected suffer from increasing amnesia which can escalate into complete helplessness and disorientation.

Characteristic of the disease are deposits of the protein molecule beta-amyloid in the form of plaques on neurons and the formation of tau-protein fibrils leading to loss of nerve connections and neurons in the brain. Whereas 7-10% of the cases of illness are congenital, little is known about the causes of the sporadically occuring Alzheimer’s disease. It is, however, striking that it only appears with increasing age in patients aged 65 years and older.

Based on the observation that depressive patients have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, in collaboration with their colleagues at the University of Minho in Braga, Portugal, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry have tested the hypothesis that the development of both diseases is triggered and influenced by stress.

Indeed, they were able to show in the animal model that stress increases the amount of the neurotoxic beta-amyloid protein. In their current study, Drs. Sotiropoulos and Catania have demonstrated that the tau-protein is also molecularly changed by stress hormones. The scientifically proven increase in phosphorylation causes the typical Alzheimer’s pathology of tau-protein fibrils. In their model, the authors postulate a direct dependency of Alzheimer’s pathology with cognitive impairments and the amount of phosphorylated tau-protein (see Fig.).

Further studies have to prove if this new knowledge of the molecular processes will also open new therapeutic ways for patients. It is, however, even today of utmost interest for each patient to know that stress has a negative influence on the course of Alzheimer’s disease and should be avoided as far as possible. "Anybody who is regularly exposed to stress could thus become more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. At the same time, the susceptibility rises with increasing age", Research Group Leader Osborne Almeida says.

Original publication:
Ioannis Sotiropoulos, Caterina Catania, Lucilia G. Pinto, Rui Silva, G. Elizabeth Pollerberg, Akihiko Takashima, Nuno Sousa, and Osborne F. X. Almeida
Stress Acts Cumulatively To Precipitate Alzheimer’s Disease-Like Tau Pathology and Cognitive Deficits
Journal of Neuroscience, May 25, 2011; 31(21):7840-7847

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 2,680 articles with more than 512,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room