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Anxiety May Increase Cognitive Decline

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerSeptember 18, 2017

Studies show that people who have mild cognitive impairment and high levels of anxiety are 135% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

This new study adds to previous research that shows the importance of lifestyle choices and stress management in Alzheimer’s prevention. Learn more about this study and the effects of anxiety on the brain.

Effects of Anxiety on the Brain

Researchers from Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute in Canada have published a study that shows people who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and high levels of stress are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

The article, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry evaluated 376 adults who had been diagnosed with MCI. They studied cognitive changes in participants every six months and found those participants who had severe anxiety were 135% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Those with mild anxiety were 33% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and those with moderate anxiety had an increased risk of 78%.

While the study clearly shows that people with MCI who have anxiety are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s, it is not clear if reducing anxiety will also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Researcher Dr. Linda Mah said of the study:

“We cannot tell from this study whether interventions to reduce anxiety will also reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease… we need future studies to answer this question.”

JAMA Psychology also published research showing how anxiety combines with other changes in the brain to accelerate cognitive disorders. Lead researcher of the study, Dr. Pietrzak, stated:

“The results of our study suggest that among older adults with a positive beta-amyloid scan, those with elevated anxiety symptoms show a more rapid decline in global cognition, verbal memory, language, and executive function over a 54-month period.”

Making Life Changes to Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope that these studies will encourage people with MCI who are experiencing anxiety to get help and engage in positive lifestyle choices that will reduce anxiety earlier.

Dr. Mah added, “I am hoping that people with MCI who are experiencing stress or anxiety but are… putting off engaging in lifestyle interventions like exercise, will be more strongly motivated to do so as a result of our study’s findings.”

Lifestyle changes like diet and exercise have been shown to reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in the past.

While no cure for the disease has been found, doctors and scientists agree that the following lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s:

  • Eating a Mediterranean diet which includes fish, fruits and vegetables
  • Limiting sugar intake
  • Preventing head trauma by wearing helmets, seat belts and protecting against falls
  • Regular physical exercise
  • Remaining mentally active by participating in mentally stimulating activities

How do you manage anxiety in yourself or a senior loved one? We’d like to hear your stories or any tips you have to share in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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