Stress build-up at work could literally shrink your brain in the long run.
Naturally, stress is not limited to work and middle age. It may also affect the diagnostics, prognosis and treatment of memory clinic patients. “In fact, decreasing stress tolerance can be an early symptom of dementia.”
IN AN ONGOING STUDY at the Memory Clinic at Karolinska University Hospital, Solomon and her colleagues are investigating the associations between patients’ self-reported stress levels, stress biomarkers such as salivary cortisol, cognitive and daily functioning, and the impact on cognitive decline and dementia. Results may be of use in addressing stress-related factors properly in the care of ageing patients. Like stress, sleep disturbances often haunt the busy working person. In old age, one in two has sleep problems. According to a recent multi-centre study, they too may increase the risk of cognitive decline. More specifically, midlife nightmares, but not insomnia, were linked to poorer late-life cognition after accounting for lifestyle habits. In the ageing population, people with sleep disturbances, such as waking up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning and having trouble falling back asleep, had poorer cognition in a follow-up after a few years. Personality traits seem to affect dementia risk, too. “We found that people with the highest level of cynical distrust in late life had a higher risk of dementia. That is something we will study more in the future and may take into account in lifestyle interventions as well.” “A good question is how personality changes with age. You may not be able to avoid cynicism, but you can pay attention to how it affects your lifestyle habits.”
BORN IN ROMANIA, Solomon first went to Karolinska Institutet to do research, but was soon lured by Professor Miia Kivipelto to do her PhD work on cholesterol and late life condition in Kuopio. She became one of founding members of the Nordic Brain Network, a collaborative research forum led by Kivipelto and involving the three centres she now works in. “The network makes it possible to be involved in a variety of multidisciplinary research projects focusing on dementia prevention. Starting from observational studies, we have moved on to interventions and developed tools to support diagnostics and risk prediction.” An important milestone was the FINGER trial, which showed that cognitive decline can be prevented with a comprehensive lifestyle intervention – even in carriers of the APOE4 gene, a common risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease. Intervention trials based on the FINGER model are now being launched in the USA, Singapore and China, in continuous collaboration with researchers from the original trial within the worldwide FINGERS network.
“A good question is how personality changes with age.” ALINA SOLOMON Academy Research Fellow
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