Combatting Cognitive Decline: The Impact of Stress on Cognitive Resilience

Combatting Cognitive Decline: The Impact of Stress on Cognitive Resilience


Recent research has unveiled the intricate relationship between cognitive resilience and the detrimental effects of physiological stress on cognitive health, shedding light on potential strategies for Alzheimer’s prevention through stress management. This study, conducted by the esteemed Karolinska Institutet and detailed in a publication on, delves into the implications of stress on individuals' cognitive reserve.


While engaging in mentally stimulating activities and enriching life experiences can bolster cognitive function in patients attending memory clinics, the insidious influence of stress threatens to undermine these positive effects. The inception of the concept of cognitive reserve in the late 1980s aimed to explain why certain individuals, despite exhibiting no outward signs of dementia, displayed brain changes indicative of advanced Alzheimer’s disease postmortem.


Building cognitive reserve through intellectually stimulating pursuits, higher education levels, complex occupational roles, active involvement in physical and leisure activities, and nurturing social interactions has been identified as a means to fortify cognitive abilities. Yet, the presence of high or prolonged stress levels has been linked to reduced social engagement, hindered participation in leisure activities, and an elevated risk of dementia onset.


In a comprehensive study involving 113 participants from the memory clinic at Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, Sweden, researchers explored the interplay between cognitive reserve, cognition, and Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers. Notably, they investigated how physiological stress, indicated by cortisol levels in saliva, and psychological stress modulate this relationship.


The findings underscore the positive impact of greater cognitive reserve on cognition while revealing a weakening effect of physiological stress on this association. Lead author Manasa Shanta Yerramalla, a researcher at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences, and Society at Karolinska Institutet, suggests that mindfulness practices and meditation may hold promise in reducing cortisol levels and enhancing cognitive function, potentially complementing existing lifestyle interventions in Alzheimer’s prevention efforts.


Despite the enlightening results, the study’s reliance on a relatively small participant pool necessitates cautious interpretation, although the findings can be extrapolated to similar cohorts. As the researchers delve deeper into the nexus between stress, sleep disorders, and cognitive reserve in memory clinic patients, ongoing investigations seek to illuminate the nuances of these interactions and their implications for cognitive health.


Generous funding from institutions like the Swedish Alzheimer’s Foundation, the Swedish Research Council, and Region Stockholm has facilitated this study, ensuring transparency and integrity in the research process. Moving forward, a commitment to understanding the multifaceted impact of stress on cognitive resilience remains paramount in the quest for effective Alzheimer’s prevention strategies.


Reference: “Cognitive reserve, cortisol, and Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers: a memory clinic study” by Manasa Shanta Yerramalla et al., 4 June 2024, Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. DOI: 10.1002/alz.13866.