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Researchers have found that cognitive stimulation and personal relationships can help protect against dementia, but stress can undermine this protection. Sources of stress may include acting as a caregiver and dealing with cognitive decline itself. Experts recommend incorporating stress management techniques as part of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease prevention and care. In a recent study, researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that stress can reduce the cognitive benefits associated with stimulating and rewarding life experiences. It was suggested that mindfulness exercises and meditation may help reduce cortisol levels and improve cognition, making stress management strategies a good complement to existing lifestyle interventions in Alzheimer’s prevention.

Previous studies have shown that individuals with higher cognitive reserve index (CRI) scores are less likely to experience cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The CRI scores are calculated based on cognitively stimulating activities, educational attainment, complex jobs, physical and leisure activities, and social interactions. The latest research examined the correlation between CRI scores, cognition, and Alzheimer’s biomarkers in 113 participants, alongside levels of perceived stress and cortisol levels indicative of psychological stress. Higher CRI scores were associated with better cognition, but this association was reduced when cortisol levels were taken into account. Better working memory was also linked to higher CRI scores among individuals with healthier cortisol levels, but not those with high levels of psychological stress.

Chronic stress, often caused by factors like caregiving responsibilities, can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which in turn can negatively impact memory formation and cognitive functions. Jobs that involve high levels of stress, such as a pilot or medical professional, can contribute to increased cortisol levels and potentially increase the risk of dementia. Stress management strategies like meditation, physical exercise, or therapy may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline in individuals with demanding professions. Speech-language pathologists often incorporate stress management techniques into therapy plans for people with dementia, as chronic stress can affect memory and communication abilities. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as word games or discussions, can help strengthen neural pathways and improve memory, problem-solving, and communication skills in people with cognitive decline.

The impact of stress on cognition is a crucial factor to consider when caring for individuals with dementia. Chronic stress can have a negative effect on memory and communication, highlighting the importance of incorporating stress management techniques into cognitive stimulation programs for personalized treatment plans. The new study, although limited by a small sample size and lack of thorough control over sleep-related factors, contributes to the growing body of research suggesting that stress management should be an integral part of Alzheimer’s prevention and care. By understanding the relationship between stress, cognitive reserve, and cognition, healthcare professionals can provide more effective strategies to improve the quality of life for individuals with dementia. Stress reduction is a well-known approach to managing symptoms and behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease, emphasizing the importance of incorporating stress management techniques into dementia care plans.

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