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Everyday Stress Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

Update Date: Mar 18, 2013 01:35 PM EDT

Being stressed all the time can increase your risk of developing dementia, researchers warn.

Swedish researchers found that stress boosts steroids in the brain that inhibit cognitive activity, and chronically elevated levels of allopregnanolone, a stress hormone in the brain, significantly increased the risk of Alzheimer's disease in mice models.

Researcher Sara Bengtsson, a PhD student from Umea University, in Sweden found that mice with higher levels of the hormone in their brains suffered impaired learning and memory.  She found that these mice also had higher levels of beta-amyloids, proteins that form plaques in the brains Alzheimer's patient, in their brains.

Bengtsson and her team linked high levels of amyloid proteins to malfunctioning brain synapses, or connections between nerve cells, in mice. Previous studies have repeatedly linked the loss of these nerve cell connections in the brain to Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers say that the loss of these brain synapses can lead to memory loss, mood swings and communications problems in Alzheimer's patients. Researchers said that if the latest findings are seen in humans, then it could mean the difference could determine whether a person will be able to live independently in old age or need to be put into professional care.

"It's important to remember this research was not carried out in people," said Dr. Simon Ridley of Alzheimer's Research UK, according to the Daily Express newspaper.

"Some research has already highlighted a possible link between chronic stress, cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer's, and further study in people is needed to fully investigate these links," he added. "If we can better understand the risk factors for Alzheimer's we can also empower people to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk."

This is not the first time researchers linked stress to the neurodegenerative disease. In 2012, Finnish researchers at the University of Kuopio discovered that the long-term effects of stress might be the biggest cause of dementia.  Researchers found that even stress from grieving or moving from home could increase the risk of dementia. 

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