High levels of stress increase the chance of older people developing mild cognitive impairment, which usually precedes Alzheimer’s disease. A study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System claims that stress doubles the risk for impairment; however, the result might help prevent or postpone the disease.

In 2005, the researchers assessed the stress levels of 507 people, aged 70 years and older, recruited by Einstein Aging Study (EAS) since 1993. With the help of Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), a widely used measure of psychological stress, the researchers found that the higher the participants rated their stress level, the greater the risk for developing amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). The risk increased by 30 percent for every five-point increase in PSS scores. Participants who scored the highest level of stress were nearly 2.5 times more likely to develop aMCI.

“Perceived stress reflects the daily hassles we all experience, as well as the way we appraise and cope with these events,” first author Mindy Katz said in a press release. “Perceived stress can be altered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive-behavioural therapies and stress-reducing drugs. These interventions may postpone or even prevent an individual’s cognitive decline.”

Participants in the high-stress group were also mostly female, came from low educational background and have higher levels of depression. The researchers investigated whether depression contributed to the results; however, they found that depression did not affect the relationship between stress and onset of aMCI. The authors note that Alzheimer’s still does not have a cure, but the results could help medical professionals delay or even prevent the development of the disease.

“Our study provides strong evidence that perceived stress increases the likelihood that an older person will develop aMCI,” senior author Richard Lipton said. “Fortunately, perceived stress is a modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment, making it a potential target for treatment.”

Contact the writer at feedback@ibtimes.com.au or tell us what you think below.