Published: 12-06-2024 12:52 | Updated: 12-06-2024 12:52

New thesis investigates the potential relationship between indicators of chronic stress and Alzheimer's disease

Hi Jasper Holleman, doctoral student at the Division of Clinical Geriatrics. On June 18 you will defend your thesis "Novel biomarkers associated with stress : from normal aging to Alzheimer's disease ". What is the main focus of the thesis?

Jasper Holleman, PhD student at the Division of Clinical Geriatrics, NVS. Photo: Private.

Chronic stress may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life. However, a lot remains unknown about how these factors are linked. Previous research has mostly focused on healthy adults, rather than those experiencing declining cognition. In this thesis, we explored whether markers of stress were related to performance on cognitive tests as well as a range of Alzheimer’s disease-related changes in the brain among memory clinic patients.

Which are the most important results?  

We found that individuals who reported more stress exposure and who showed dysregulated patterns of the stress hormone cortisol (as is commonly seen in chronically stressed individuals) performed worse on cognitive tests. However, we did not find such associations with other Alzheimer’s disease-related markers. These mixed results may reflect interactions between the body’s stress systems and other ongoing disease processes in the development of Alzheimer's disease. For instance, we found that cortisol was related to brain structure only in those who also had high levels of inflammation. Additionally, associations might depend on when individuals experienced stress. For instance, greater stress exposure in adolescence was associated with poorer cognition, while exposure to stress in adulthood was not. 

How can this new knowledge contribute to the improvement of people's health?  

The risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can be lowered by reducing the effect of lifestyle risk factors. By adding to our understanding of the link between stress and Alzheimer’s disease, this thesis provides insight into the potential benefit of adding stress reduction strategies to future preventive efforts. Additionally, by highlighting potential periods of increased vulnerability to stress, as well as potential interactions between the stress system and other disease processes, our findings may help identify individuals at increased risk of the harmful effects of stress, who may therefore benefit the most from preventive interventions.

What's in the future for you? Will you continue to conduct research?  

The fields of stress research and lifestyle risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are still fascinating and full of further research potential. I will be continuing with my research for at least the coming months, and would love to continue beyond that as well, if possible.


Jasper Holleman Phd Student