A Possible Breakthrough

The disease that seems to be more prevalent and deadly these days is Alzheimer’s. It mainly strikes the elderly without cause or reason and is now the subject of many a concerted effort to find the elements that triggers its onset or at least arrest its more devastating effects.

The latest theory is that severe stress could cause dementia by damaging the brain, say scientists. Researchers found that chemical responses to chronic anxiety and fear ‘extensively overlap’ with areas of the brain associated with the disease. Physical damage done to the brain during periods of prolonged stress could therefore lead to dementia they said.

A team of Canadian researchers pooled data from human brain scans and animal studies, focusing on chemicals sparked by fear and anxiety in three areas in the brain; the Amygdala, Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) and Hippocampus. The Amygdala is associated with emotional responses; the PFC is in charge of reasoning and behaviour regulation and the Hippocampus is the brain’s memory hub.

The Canadians found that when the brain was subjected to stress there was abnormal activity and degradation in these areas. The Journal of Current Opinion in Psychiatry reports this degradation ‘may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders including dementia,’ according to lead author Dr Linda Mah of the University of Toronto. ‘In Alzheimer’s patients, Hippocampus is one of the first regions to shrink, and the PFC wastes away. Therapies to combat stress and anxiety could therefore reduce the risk of the disease.’

This latest study is perhaps a step forward in the battle to stem the onslaught of this crippling disease which renders the brain, the most intricate part of our body, virtually dead.

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