Stress, often overlooked, is increasingly recognised as a modifiable risk factor for dementia. Chronic stress has been associated with biological changes in the brain that can contribute to cognitive decline and the development of dementia. Emerging research highlights the intricate relationship between stress and dementia risk including impact on brain structure, particularly in areas crucial for memory function, such as the hippocampus. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones like cortisol may damage neurons and affect this region of the brain, also critical for learning.
Stress triggers an inflammatory response and increased oxidant production in the body. These processes, if prolonged, can contribute to damage to brain cells and accelerate the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia. Chronic stress may also compromise the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, a protective barrier that separates the brain from harmful substances in the bloodstream. This disruption could potentially allow harmful molecules to enter the brain and contribute to cognitive impairment.
Addressing stress through various strategies, such as mindfulness, physical activity, and social engagement, may not only improve overall well-being but also contribute to a lower risk of dementia. As our understanding of the intricate connection between stress and dementia deepens, managing stress becomes an important component of comprehensive dementia prevention strategies.