Mignonette N. Keller, PhD, LCSW-C
Alzheimer’s Disease and Chronic Anxiety in the Family System
A growing number of animal and human research studies suggest that chronic stress is a trigger for the onset and development of Alzheimer’s disease. To date, scientists have not been able to identify factors that account for the variability in stress response among individuals. It is not understood why chronic stress results in symptoms in some individuals and not in others. The aim of Phase II of this pilot study is to investigate the onset and development of Alzheimer’s disease by examining the relationship between the biological process in the brain and the family emotional process. The combined use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and multigenerational family histories will be used to identify biomarkers in the brain (amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) and markers in the family relationship system (stressors, level of anxiety, level of differentiation, and level of emotional cutoff) that influence symptom development.
The criteria for participation in the study are as follows: (1) families that have one or more family members with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, or a combination of the two, (2) families that have members who can provide multigenerational family histories spanning three to five generations, (3) families in which the most functional and least functional family members agree to have MRIs every two years, and (4) families that agree to have family history updates every two years.
Phase I of the study is to collect multigenerational family histories spanning three to five generations. The functional facts provide a diagrammatic description of the emotional patterns in the nuclear and extended families. Phase II of the study is to perform MRIs on the most functional and least functional family members and obtain family history updates every two years. The data will be used to study the relationship between symptom development in the brain and the family relationship system.
Based on the data collected thus far in Phase I, the following markers have been identified in Alzheimer’s disease families: (1) generational stress, (2) generational chronic anxiety, (3) fixed over-functioning/under-functioning positions, (4) a high level of emotional cutoff, and (5) multiple mechanisms binding anxiety.