World Alzheimer’s Day: Too much stress is toxic, can damage your brain

World Alzheimer's Day: Too much stress is toxic, can damage your brain
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Along with stress, hypertension also play an important role in Alzheimer’s.

You may be losing as much as 1% of your brain mass every year.

By Dr Suryanarayana Sharma

Even if you seem perfectly healthy, you may be losing as much as 1% of your brain mass every year. The rate of brain shrinkage increases with age and is a major factor in early cognitive decline and premature death.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Common age of onset of the disease is above 65 years. Early-onset Alzheimer's disease occurs between a person's 30s to mid-50s. There are several factors influence when Alzheimer's disease begins and starts to progress.

A host of factors beyond genetics may play a role in the development and course of Alzheimer's disease. There is a great deal of interest, for example, in the relationship between cognitive decline and cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, as well as metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

When a person has Alzheimer’s, his brain changes. It has fewer healthy neuron controlling memory, and it gets smaller over time. Plaques damage the healthy brain cells around them. The damaged cells die, and the brain shrinks. These changes cause the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as memory loss, speech problems, confusion, and mood swings.

With Alzheimer’s disease there is great individual variability as to the nature of symptoms experienced and the speed at which deterioration occurs. The types of behaviour change and the length of time symptoms are present are different for each person. The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease typically develop quite slowly.

Stress and hypertension play an important role in Alzheimer’s. Whenever an individual feels stress, the body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to cope with the situation causing the discomfort. However, too much stress becomes toxic; elevated cortisol levels may have a negative impact on cognition and lead to higher chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms commonly experienced during the early stages of Alzheimer's disease include:
- Mild forgetfulness – especially short-term memory loss
- Mood changes, including irritability and anxiety
- Difficulty processing new information and learning new things
- Loss of spontaneity and initiative
- Confusion about time and place
- Communication difficulties
- Decline in ability to perform routine tasks.

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses the following symptoms may develop:
- Increasing short-term memory loss and confusion
- Difficulty recognising family and friends
- Shorter attention span and feelings of restlessness
- Difficulty with reading, writing and numbers
- Possibly neglectful of hygiene
- Loss of appetite
- Personality changes (eg: aggression, significant mood swings)
- Requires increasing assistance with daily tasks.
- Change in sleep pattern

Patients with memory loss and presenting like Alzheimer's disease must be carefully evaluated for treatable conditions such as hypothyroidism, Vitamin B12 deficiency, stroke and subdural hematoma as treatment of these conditions greatly improve patients condition.

Although there are no specific dietary specifications for Alzheimer's, a Mediterranean-style diet (i.e: plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, olives and olive oil, along with some cheeses, yoghurt, fish, poultry and eggs) may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Good control of diabetes, hypertension ,high cholesterol and heart problems may delay the progression of the disease.

Moving more might help to keep people’s brains sharp as one getting 40 and older– even in the face of Alzheimer’s. Mental activities included intellectual activities, such as reading and writing; artistic activities, such as going to a concert or singing in a choir; socialising with like-minded groups, manual activities, such as gardening and indoor games may be tied to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s decades later.

(The author is senior consultant neurologist and stroke specialist at Apollo Hospitals Bannerghatta, Bangalore)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of

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