Stress on the body = stress on the mind

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“My Mother has dementia as well as high blood pressure. She is on medication for the blood pressure, but often has blood pressure spikes. Recently, it spiked to 214/82 and required her to go to the ER. Does a spike like this, or even less severe spikes, cause dementia symptoms to become worse temporarily or even permanently?”

The short answer: definitely, yes. 

Stress on the body causes stress on the brain. When there is stress on the brain, there is stress on someone’s mind and thinking patterns. Consider this: when you’re in a stressful situation, such as an accident or emergency—or even something like a deadline at work—how clearly are you thinking? Most likely, you react pretty automatically. You don’t necessarily think everything through, you just act. This is good news, usually: our brains evolved to react quickly in emergencies. 

In bad news, prolonged stress can also cause huge problems for humans. This is true even of people without dementia! Caregivers are under immense amounts of stress, both mentally and physically, each day. Humans weren’t really built to deal with regular, ongoing stress.

The same thing goes for someone living with a cognitive impairment. Outside factors that cause stress will also impact a person’s ability to function at their best. Because they are already impaired, extra physical or mental stress will only exacerbate that impairment further.

This is also called delirium. Delirium is a sudden onset of confusion that should subside. If it doesn’t subside within a week after a trauma or illness, or seems to be getting worse, definitely consult a physician.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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