Stress can cause Alzheimer's

Brain power: Stress makes you forgetful

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It has long been known that stress can make you sick. But not only the psyche suffers from negative permanent stress, but also the body. "Several studies show a connection between high stress levels and suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease," says stress researcher and occupational psychologist Tim Hagemann. The onset of dementia may even be accelerated by stress.

In general, stress is divided into healthy eustress and unhealthy distress. While the former increases performance even for a short time, can be managed well and happiness hormones are released, the latter reduces brain performance, puts a strain on the immune system and makes you sick in the long term.

"Psychologically decisive is the perceived scope for maneuver in order to master a situation. For example, long-term unemployed people are particularly at risk of becoming mentally and physically ill from stress because they particularly often see their situation as unchangeable or controllable," says Hagemann. If stress cannot be dealt with psychologically, the risk of developing depression increases. And that in turn can trigger the onset of senile dementia or Alzheimer's disease earlier or cause dementia-like symptoms, according to the stress researcher.

In addition, there is what happens biologically in the body. Stress means that the body is preparing for an acute dangerous situation. The body releases adrenaline, noradrenaline and corticoids, heart rate and blood flow increase, glucose is released, gastrointestinal activity is restricted and blood clotting accelerates. The immune system also shuts down a little to save energy. The body is prepared for activity, an escape or combat situation. But this usually doesn't happen in the modern world of work.

Stress hormones attack nerve cells

The cortisol then attacks important brain cells. The stress hormones even lead to physiological and anatomical changes in the brain in the long term. Especially in the hippocampus, a region in the brain that is part of the limbic system, is primarily involved in memory formation and is responsible for short-term memory and the ability to concentrate. Important and unimportant sensory perceptions are also filtered in this region of the brain. If there is a fault here, it has an impact. Stressed people become forgetful, appear scattered or restless. A tunnel vision arises - the perception is limited and only focused on the stressful situation.

"Then you fall back on routines. You then rewind practiced behavior. This effect is consciously used in the Bundeswehr. Fire protection exercises also aim to develop behavioral routines for acute stressful situations," says Hagemann. This is a disadvantage for normal companies that need high-performing employees. Chronically stressed employees are less efficient, less productive, less creative.

If the stress persists for several months, nerve cells in the hippocampus can even die, the Dutch neurobiologist Ron de Kloet has discovered. Unlike body cells, they are not reproduced. Anyone who expects themselves to be under a lot of stress for years becomes, in a sense, dumber. This also explains the connection between symptoms similar to dementia and stress. In addition, there is the already mentioned risk of depression. This has consequences, especially in old age.

"It happens that stress-related depression is confused with the onset of dementia - or goes hand in hand with it. Scientists from Tübingen recently found that depression increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease by two to three times," says Hagemann. These effects can already be observed in 60-year-olds - an age at which many are still fully at work.