Anxiety Raises Risk for Dementia

In the current era with technological advances, it is possible for people to be connected and available all the time. We are also always connected to the news via smart phones, televisions in lobbies, tickers on the sides of buildings and more. Being bombarded with bad news has caused anxiety levels of everyday people to increase, which is bad for your health. Along with an increased risk of hypertension, heart attack and stroke, researchers at the University of Southern California have now found that higher anxiety levels may put you at risk for developing dementia. 

Stress Increases Cortisol Levels

It is widely known that high levels of anxiety and stress trigger the body to release cortisol, a key component of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response. High levels of cortisol can raise the blood pressure, increasing a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Researchers involved in the USC study surmised that this hormone may also play a role in dementia. According to the University of Southern California, which describes the study in detail, “Petkus said people who have high levels of anxiety tend to have higher levels of stress hormones, including cortisol. Evidence shows that chronically high levels of cortisol damage parts of the brain such as the hippocampus, which stores memory, and the frontal cortex, which is responsible for high-level thinking.”

Anxiety May Also Increase Chances of Complications

Many people who develop dementia also become depressed, but anxiety is a potential side effect as well. Researchers in the U.K. did a study that found that having anxiety increased a patient’s chances of dying from complications related to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. An article on the Fischer Center For Alzheimer’s Research Foundation website titled, Anxiety and Depression Increase Alzheimer’s Risk, discusses this study: “Those men and women with the highest mental distress scores were more likely to have died from dementia than those who were psychologically healthy. The link between psychological distress and death from dementia was independent of other factors that may raise dementia risk, including smoking, alcohol abuse, years of schooling or physical ailments like heart disease or diabetes.”

Treating Your Anxiety

Although the USC study found that the increased risk of dementia may be present in anyone who has experienced periods of high anxiety, it is still important to treat it. Anxiety disorders are commonly treated through a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Exercise is also beneficial in both treating anxiety and improving brain function. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.” Choosing new forms of exercise such as dance or learning a new sport can also help build up neural pathways in the brain, which helps to prevent dementia. 

Anxiety has been shown to increase the risk of developing dementia, but people with anxiety can take steps to calm down. By treating your anxiety, you can reduce the levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, in your body and alleviate the health risks associated with these high levels. By exercising, eating well and sleeping regularly, you can also reduce your anxiety levels and be healthier overall. Having high levels of anxiety does not guarantee that you will develop dementia later in life, but treating it now will likely reduce this risk and others associated with anxiety.