Stress not only makes your present life miserable, it drags you to worse ills in the future, such as Alzheimer's, say researchers.
Researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago opine that those who most often are anxious or depressed are 40 times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, a form of memory loss that is often a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia, but which has no significant disability.
Says lead author Robert Wilson:"Not only are these individuals losing cognition, but they are showing many of the changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease."
Wilson and colleagues analyzed data from two large studies involving 1,256 older people who started the studies with no memory problems.
After up to 12 years of follow up, 482 people in the study developed mild cognitive impairment. Participants were rated on how vulnerable they were to worry and depression.
"What we're measuring is a personality trait that we all have to greater or lesser degree. We all experience anxiety and periodic depression. This trait helps identify people for whom that is more characteristic than others," says Wilson, whose study is published in the journal Neurology.
"This isn't a measure of stress, but of the response to stress," he was quoted.
Results from the research suggest that chronic stress may harm parts of the brain responsible for responding to stress - an area that is also associated with memory.
"The bigger impact on public health will depend on us understanding the neurobiological basis for this," says Wilson, adding that his research might lead to early treatments, such as promoting exercise to reduce stress or drug therapy for depression. Depression appeared in this study to be merely a "proxy for the enduring tendency to experience negative emotions," according to the researchers.
"It (the research) could open up new avenues for strategies to delay the symptoms of this disease," says Wilson.