British researchers are to begin a study to find out if stress can trigger dementia.
The investigation, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, will monitor 140 people with mild cognitive impairment or “pre-dementia” and look at how stress affects their condition.
The researchers will take blood and saliva samples at six-monthly intervals over the 18 months of the study to measure biological markers of stress.
They hope their work will reveal ways to prevent dementia.
The results could offer clues to new treatments or better ways of managing the condition, they say.
British researchers are to begin a study to find out if stress can trigger dementia
People who have mild cognitive impairment are at an increased risk of going on to develop dementia – although some will remain stable and others may improve.
And past work suggests mid-life stress may increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A Swedish study that followed nearly 1,500 women for a period of 35 years found the risk of dementia was about 65% higher in women who reported repeated periods of stress in middle age than in those who did not.
Scottish scientists, who have done studies in animals, believe the link may be down to hormones the body releases in response to stress which interfere with brain function.
Prof. Clive Holmes, from the University of Southampton, who will lead the study, said: “All of us go through stressful events. We are looking to understand how these may become a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s.
“Something such as bereavement or a traumatic experience – possibly even moving home – are also potential factors.
“This is the first stage in developing ways in which to intervene with psychological or drug-based treatments to fight the disease.
“We are looking at two aspects of stress relief – physical and psychological – and the body’s response to that experience.”
Dr. Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We welcome any research that could shed new light on Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia.
“Understanding the risk factors for Alzheimer’s could provide one piece of the puzzle we need to take us closer to a treatment that could stop the disease in its tracks.”
British researchers involved in Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA), which studies the causes of dementia, have found that B vitamins supplements could slow shrinkage of the brain and the rate of cognitive decline.
In 2011, the researchers recruited 270 elderly people with memory problems and gave them Vitamin B tablets – folic acid (800 micrograms), B12 (500 micrograms) and B6 (20 milligrams).
The supplements were found to slow shrinkage of the brain by an average of 30% a year – and slow the rate of cognitive decline – in people with high blood levels of homocysteine. Raised levels of this amino acid can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease three or four-fold.
By regulating homocysteine with B vitamins, the British researchers showed for the first time it is possible to slow the progress of the disease, if the treatment starts early. More trials are needed to test whether continued treatment can delay its progress indefinitely, but B vitamins have been shown to be as good clinically as Aricept (donepezil) – and better in that they slow the disease progression rather than ease the symptoms.
British researchers have found that B vitamins supplements could slow shrinkage of the brain and the rate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer patients
There is no way of knowing who is predisposed to Alzheimer, apart from extremely rare familial forms of the disease.
But those with memory problems should have their homocysteine measured and be started on B vitamins, under medical guidance. Normal dietary intake isn’t enough. One (200ml) glass of semi-skimmed milk contains 2.5 micrograms of B12, and most manage to eat five micrograms a day. But we do know people with high Vitamin B intakes are less likely to develop dementia, so every little helps.
Large-scale studies are needed to see if nutrition and exercise can slow the conversion of memory impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers also need to know if they improve the response to drugs such as donepezil.
For OPTIMA, the next step is a trial of 1,000 people with MCI to see if B vitamins prevent the conversion to dementia over a two-year period.