comscore How stress can lead to cognitive decline | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

How stress can lead to cognitive decline


    A resident sits in the Alexa Seniors’ Residence in Dresden, eastern Germany, in 2017. Various forms of dementia are increasingly common and, yes, scary. It’s predicted that by age 85 at least half of folks will develop some form of dementia.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to

QUESTION: I’m worried about losing my mind as I get older. I’m 55. My mom had dementia in her 80s, and it scares me!

I exercise every day, eat carefully, do volunteer work and get checkups. Is it enough?

— Liz G., Richmond, Va.

ANSWER: Various forms of dementia are increasingly common and, yes, scary.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death rates from Alzheimer’s disease increased 55 percent between 1999 and 2014, and it’s predicted that by age 85 at least half of folks will develop some form of dementia.

However, over 80 — maybe 90 — percent of most forms of dementia are the result of long-term lifestyle choices that lead to cardiovascular problems, obesity and chronic bodywide inflammation. These conditions can cause a cascade of physical changes that make the brain slow down, misfire or mis-sort information.

Fortunately, by doing what you’re doing — eating healthfully, getting consistent physical exercise, regular checkups and staying engaged (try some cognitive training, too) — you’re lowering your risk for cognitive decline.

But your stress response (and you sound pretty stressed) can reduce the benefits of your good lifestyle choices. Stanford University researchers, writing in Cell Metabolism, found that chronic stress promotes weight gain by causing your body’s progenitor and stem cells to turn into fat cells. If you accumulate excess fat, especially around the belly, it is a trigger for brain-damaging inflammation.

A Swedish research team observed in a 38-year study of 800 women that “psychosocial stressors in midlife were associated with increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.”

So, add a regular meditation routine to your healthful habits. A study in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement found that people who meditate regularly over time are better able to cope with stressors. Then there’s a good chance you’ll feel calmer and lose unwanted pounds while at the same time reducing your risk of cognition problems.

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