Can Anxiety Lead to Dementia?
Everyone experiences instances of anxiety from time to time. It’s common to become anxious before a big event, when there is trouble at work, and even when things go awry at home.
But for some people, anxiety is a constant factor in their lives. It never goes away, and may worsen over the years. In some cases the persistent worry, fear and feelings of unease can interfere with daily activities, relationships and job performance.
When this occurs, it’s considered an anxiety disorder. And today we are finding that people with a moderate or severe anxiety disorder in mid-life face a greater risk of dementia in later life.
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Anxiety May Speed Brain Cell Aging
Researchers from the University College London and the University of Southampton searched through 3,500 studies to find ones that linked mid-life anxiety with the development of dementia later in life. The team also wanted a gap of at least 10 years between the diagnoses. They finally narrowed the search down to four studies involving nearly 30,000 people.
All four studies in the review found a significant increase in the number of dementia diagnoses in patients who suffered anxiety for an average of at least 10 years prior to their diagnosis of dementia. This relationship stood, even after accounting for demographic, vascular and psychiatric factors.
The authors suggest that abnormal stress response associated with anxiety may speed up brain cell aging and cause degenerative changes in the central nervous system. This, in turn, may make the individual more prone to dementia.
“We need more research to find out what impact anxiety treatment might have on dementia risk — whether that’s through pharmacological intervention, or talking therapies or treatments based on mindfulness strategies or meditation, which are known to help reduce anxiety,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Natalie Marchant.
Bringing Anxiety Under Control
With information like this, it’s certainly worth making the effort to bring anxiety under control — no matter what your age. In addition to talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness techniques, there are several things you can do to get started.
For example, a recent systematic review on art therapy found that art therapy resulted in a significant reduction in anxiety and was significantly more effective than the control. Check out our article Study Finds New Art Trend Lowers Stress Levels to learn more.
Another analysis, this one on the effects of yoga on stress and anxiety, noted a significant decrease in stress and/or anxiety symptoms when a yoga regimen was implemented. Other data shows that animal therapy, such as visiting with (or owning) a dog, is a great way to combat stress and can decrease symptoms of anxiety and loneliness by about 60%.
Even dancing has been found to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. And studies have shown the hobby helps protect against dementia as well. You can learn all about the positive health effects of dancing in our article Here’s How to Dance Your Way to Better Health.
It’s also important to note that sedentary behavior, such as too much sitting, is linked to an increased risk of anxiety. On the other hand, regular physical activity is directly related to decreased anxiety symptoms.
Gimson A, et al. Support for midlife anxiety diagnosis as an independent risk factor for dementia: a systematic review. BMJ Open. 2018 Apr 30;8(4):e019399.
Mid-life anxiety may be linked to later life dementia. News Release. University College London. May 2018.
Scope UL, et al. Systematic review and economic modelling of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of art therapy among people with non-psychotic mental health disorders. Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; 2015 Mar. (Health Technology Assessment, No. 19.18.) Chapter 2, Clinical effectiveness of art therapy: quantitative systematic review.
Li AW, et al. The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress. Altern Med Rev. 2012 Mar;17(1):21-35.
Teychenne M, et al. The association between sedentary behaviour and risk of anxiety: a systematic review. BMC Public Health. 2015; 15: 513.
Stewart LA, et al. A Pilot Study Assessing the Effectiveness of an Animal-Assisted Outreach Program. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 2014; 9 (3): 332.
Herring MP, et al. The effect of exercise training on anxiety symptoms among patients: a systematic review. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Feb 22;170(4):321-31.
Dana Nicholas is a freelance writer and researcher in the field of natural and alternative healing. She has over 20 years of experience working with many noted health authors and anti-aging professionals, including James Balch, M.D., Dr. Linda Page, “Amazon” John Easterling and Al Sears M.D. Dana’s goal is to keep you up-to-date on information, news and breakthroughs that can have a direct impact on your health, your quality of life… and your lifespan. “I’m absolutely convinced that America’s misguided trust in mainstream medicine – including reliance on the government to regulate our food and medicine supply – is killing us, slowly but surely,” she cautions. “By sharing what I’ve learned throughout the years I hope I can empower others to take control over their own health.”