I try to focus on the lessons I’ve learned from my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and yet often I can’t help but wonder WHY.
Why did my mother develop Alzheimer’s disease? The question seems pointless; I can never reach a definitive answer, and yet it nags at me, especially when I see new dementia research trying to determine the same thing.
I’ve recently read about a new research study focused on chronic stress and the part it plays in triggering Alzheimer’s disease. Is there a link between chronic stress and dementia? I find this an interesting angle for medical pursuit because I’ve always wondered if my mother’s difficult and extremely stressful life contributed to her ultimate demise from dementia. She was the poster child of stress, a woman on her own constantly struggling and desperate for various reasons throughout all the stages of her life.
“All of us go through stressful events. We are looking to understand how these may become a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s. This is the first stage in developing ways in which to intervene with psychological or drug based treatments to fight the disease.”
My mother’s stress level was compounded by anger, a seething hatred that never diminished, even twenty years after her divorce. I saw this anger eat away at her from middle age until Alzheimer’s disease claimed the rage along with the rest of her memories. Could this lifetime of difficulty and anger have caused my mother to develop Alzheimer’s disease? Something in my heart tells me stress did play a part after witnessing her troubles as a spectator all those years. Though I’ll never be able to prove it, maybe research will.
The role that stress might play in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease is further explained by Professor Holmes as it relates to his new study:
“There is a lot of variability in how quickly that progression happens; one factor increasingly implicated in the process is chronic stress. That could be driven by a big change – usually negative – such as a prolonged illness, injury or a major operation.
We are looking at two aspects of stress relief – physical and psychological – and the body’s response to that experience. Something such as bereavement or a traumatic experience – possibly even moving home – is also a potential factor.”
Bingo. My mother hit the stress trifecta in 1996: the man she loved died unexpectedly, she was laid off from her job, and she became embroiled in a nasty family feud. The well known dementia symptoms of cognitive decline, memory lapses, paranoia and even hallucinations became apparent soon afterwards. Was it merely a coincidence that these symptoms, four years later confirmed as Alzheimer’s, increased significantly after these stressful events? I’ve always wondered if there was a connection as 1996 was such an awful year for my mother, and she never recovered. It marked the beginning of the end.
As I mentioned already, I always try to come back to the lessons I’ve learned from my mother’s life and heartbreaking death. Alzheimer’s is a cruel teacher, but nothing has opened my eyes to life more than this insidious killer. I truly believe that stress and hatred contributed to my mother’s illness. For this reason, I embrace compassion and practice forgiveness, and this philosophy has helped me to overcome anger and reduce the stress in my own life so that I might live more fully and appreciate all that I have here and now. It’s the best that any of us can do under the circumstances: reduce the risks believed to increase the odds of developing dementia.
What’s your experience with stress as it relates to Alzheimer’s disease? Do you think chronic stress or long-term anger played a part in your loved one developing Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia?