Elderly people who experience chronic stress are twice as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, which is a common prelude to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. The results come from a new study by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System.

The study specifically looked at the association between chronic stress and amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI)—the most frequent type of MCI. As stress is a treatable state, the findings could provide an opportunity to treat stress earlier and subsequently cut down on the number of Alzheimer’s diagnoses.

This data was collected from 507 people, age 70 and over who live in Bronx County, NY; enrolled in the Einstein Aging Study (EAS). As well as undergoing clinical evaluations, in 2005 they started assessing stress using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). The scale measures chronic stress perceived over the previous month. All 507 subjects were free of aMCI in their initial PSS assessment and underwent at least annual follow-up evaluation. Participants were followed for an averaged of 3.6 years.

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During the study 71 of the participants were diagnosed with aMCI. For every 5 point increase in their PSS scores, the risk of developing aMCI increased by 30%. Those participants in the highest quintile were almost 2.5 times more likely to develop aMCI than those in the other four quintiles combined. These high-stress individuals were also more likely to be female and have less education.

Many of the aMCI diagnosed participants also had a history of depression, however the researchers concluded that depression did not influence the results.

For more information visit einstein.yu.edu