Over the years, many studies have looked at the effects of stress on people, specifically, what effect chronic stress might have on cognitive function. When we are stressed, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol, or the “stress hormone”. Most of the recent studies on the effects of stress have focused on cortisol and how it can change the physical aspects of our aging brains.
Chronic stress can cause shrinking in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, the part that plans and controls our personality. Stress can increase activity in the parts of the brain that respond to anxiety, kill brain cells, and confuse electrical signals related to cognitive function, like social skills. Studies have found that people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have higher levels of cortisol in their systems than people who do not have any cognitive impairment. People with Alzheimer’s who have higher levels of cortisol also experience more rapid acceleration of MCI.
While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease from developing, avoiding stress and raised cortisol levels is always a good idea for your health. Cortisol can cause our blood pressure to rise, increasing our heart rate and decreasing important functions in the body, like digestion and immune system response. To avoid chronic stress, change your diet, exercise, meditate, and stay social.