Can Stress Heighten Mental Decline?

elder stressI recently had the relative of a patient ask me if too much activity, or too much stress can hasten the decline of a dementia patient. Studies show that stress lead to the release of cortisol, known as the “stress hormone.” In small bursts, cortisol gives us the energy or focus we need to survive in a “fight-or-flight” sort of situation. But if cortisol levels stay chronically high for long periods of time, that can cause problems. Increased cortisol can lead to immune problems, decreased bone density and muscle tone, increased belly fat, and yes, diminished mental abilities.

I think we all need to remember that “multi-tasking” is an illusion. We really can’t do two things at once; we just switch back and forth. Trying to do too much increases our stress levels, and thus, our cortisol levels. All of us, but especially dementia patients, should remember to be mindful, to be grateful for our blessings, to enjoy our relationships and to find meaningful activities and to exercise.

Don’t stress out. It not only makes your life less enjoyable, it may actually hasten the slide into full-blown dementia.