Brain Health and Cortisol

Reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia through early detection

Learn about the signs and symptoms of Dementia, risk factors and the role of cortisol.

What is Dementia?

Dementia describes a range of brain disorders that can trigger a loss of brain function.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia accounting for around 60-70% of cases Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding. Dementia is a terminal condition.

Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not the inevitable consequence of ageing. Young onset dementia (defined as the onset of symptoms before the age of 65 years) accounts for up to 9% of cases.

55 million people worldwide are currently living with Dementia.

Signs and symptoms of Dementia

Dementia can affect each person in different ways depending upon the underlying causes, other health conditions and the person’s cognitive functioning before becoming ill. The signs and symptoms linked to dementia can be understood in three stages.

Early stage: the early stage of dementia is often overlooked because the onset is gradual. Common symptoms may include:

  • forgetfulness
  • losing track of the time
  • becoming lost in familiar places.

Middle stage: as dementia progresses to the middle stage, the signs and symptoms become clearer and may include:

  • becoming forgetful of recent events and people's names
  • becoming confused while at home
  • having increasing difficulty with communication
  • needing help with personal care
  • experiencing behaviour changes, including wandering and repeated questioning

Late stage: signs and symptoms of the late stage of dementia include:

  • becoming unaware of the time and place
  • having difficulty recognizing relatives and friends
  • having an increasing need for assisted self-care
  • having difficulty walking
  • experiencing behaviour changes that may escalate and include aggression.

Risk factors

Risk factors are things that can raise your risk of developing future chronic health conditions like Dementia.

The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop a chronic health condition.

Your lifestyle over time is a risk factor for Developing Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

The good news is that the impact that your lifestyle may be having on your future risk of illness can be controlled, treated or modified through early detection and lifestyle change.

Although age is the strongest known risk factor for dementia, it is not an inevitable consequence of ageing.

Many factors can eventually contribute to dementia. Some factors, such as age, can't be changed. Others can be addressed to reduce your risk.

Risk factors that can't be changed

  • Age. The risk rises as you age, especially after age 65. However, dementia isn't a normal part of aging, and dementia can occur in younger people.
  • Family history. Having a family history of dementia puts you at greater risk of developing the condition. However, many people with a family history never develop symptoms, and many people without a family history do. There are tests to determine whether you have certain genetic mutations.

Risk factors you can change

You might be able to control the following risk factors for dementia.

  • Diet and exercise. Research shows that lack of exercise increases the risk of dementia. And while no specific diet is known to reduce dementia risk, research indicates a greater incidence of dementia in people who eat an unhealthy diet compared with those who follow a Mediterranean-style diet rich in produce, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • Excessive alcohol use. Drinking large amounts of alcohol has long been known to cause brain changes. Several large studies and reviews found that alcohol use disorders were linked to an increased risk of dementia, particularly early-onset dementia.
  • Cardiovascular risk factors. These include high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, buildup of fats in your artery walls (atherosclerosis) and obesity.
  • Depression. Although not yet well-understood, late-life depression might indicate the development of dementia.
  • Diabetes. Having diabetes may increase your risk of dementia, especially if it's poorly controlled.
  • Smoking. Smoking might increase your risk of developing dementia and blood vessel diseases.
  • Head trauma. People who've had a severe head trauma have a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Cortisol levels. Managing your cortisol levels over time can help to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Cortisol and your risk of Alzheimer’s Dementia

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone that regulates a range of systems within the body including brain function.

Research has shown that Cortisol levels over time can contribute to neurodegeneration and provide an early warning sign that you may be at an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

In order for each region of the brain to develop, regenerate and be healthy it depends on cells and each region within the brains to work optimally. Cortisol affects the brain through binding to receptors known as type I Mineralcorticoid Receptors (MR) and type II Glucocorticoid receptors (GR’s) and regulates levels of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) within the brain, which can affect a range of processes including brain plasticity, neurogenesis, and synaptogenesis.

References

Albanese et al., (2018). Salivary cortisol and 5y change in cognitive function in community dwelling, cognitively healthy older adults: the Psycolaus cohort study. Alzheimers Dement. 14:97210.1016/j.jalz.2018.06.1304

Beluche et al., (2010). A prospective study of diurnal cortisol and cognitive function in community-dwelling elderly people. Psychol. Med. 40 1039–1049. 10.1017/S0033291709991103

Ennis et al., (2017). Long-term cortisol measures predict Alzheimer disease risk. Neurology 88 371–378. 10.1212/WNL.0000000000003537

Geerlings et al., (2015). Salivary cortisol, brain volumes, and cognition in community-dwelling elderly without dementia. Neurology 85 976–983. 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001931

Lupien et al., (1999). Increased cortisol levels and impaired cognition in human aging: implication for depression and dementia in later life. Rev. Neurosci. 10 117–139.

Notarianni et al. (2017). Cortisol: mediator of association between Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes mellitus? Psychoneuroendocrinology81 129–137. 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.04.008

Ouanes, S., and Popp, J., (2019). High cortisol and the risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease: A review of the literature. Front Aging Neurosci, 11, 43.

Rothman et al., (2010). Adverse stress, hippocampal networks, and Alzheimer’s disease. Neuromol. Med. 12 56–70. 10.1007/s12017-009-8107-9

Weiner et al., (1997) Cortisol secretion and Alzheimer's disease progression. Biol Psychiatry, 42,1030–1038.

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