Delirium and Dementia in old age: do our stress hormones contribute?
From Jillian Hosie
Wednesday 16th March 2016
Professor Alasdair MacLullich and Doctor Joyce Yau discuss during
normal ageing, the brain becomes vulnerable to high levels of stress hormones.
This can manifest in two common disorders; delirium, an acute brain disorder
that normally resolves in a few days or weeks, and dementia, a chronic, mostly
incurable brain disorder, caused by brain shrinkage.
Delirium (or ‘acute confusional state’) affects one in five older people in hospital, with up to one in three affected in the Intensive Care Unit. People with delirium have severe changes in their memory and thinking, and often experience highly distressing hallucinations and paranoia. Delirium is often triggered by acute illness or injury such as hip fracture.
The symptoms of dementia (of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form) include memory loss and reduced ability to learn and solve problems. Recent research estimate that people with memory problems that are not severe enough to impact on daily function (termed “mild cognitive impairment”) are up to five times more likely to develop dementia. Evidence increasingly suggests that stress is a key factor in progression from mild cognitive impairment to dementia.