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4 Ways Anxiety Increases Your Risk of Dementia

Crystal Jo
By Crystal JoOctober 10, 2018

In a review of four studies that looked at over 40,000 participants, researchers found a positive connection between moderate to severe anxiety and the likelihood of developing dementia within 10 years.

Learn more about the four ways that anxiety can increase your risk of dementia and the steps that you can take to keep your brain healthier.

How Anxiety Increases Your Risk of Dementia

Does anxiety increase your risk of dementia? Or is anxiety an early sign of dementia? A recent study by Amy Gimson, a researcher at the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine, suggests that it is, indeed, anxiety that increases your risk of dementia.

In a review of four studies that looked at over 40,000 participants, researchers found a positive connection between moderate to severe anxiety and the likelihood of developing dementia within 10 years.

Here are the four big ways that anxiety may increase your risk of dementia and what you can do to keep your brain healthier:

1. Anxiety causes your brain to age faster.

study conducted by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2012 discovered that anxiety caused the brain to appear six years older. Participants with chronic phobic anxiety were found to have shorter telomere lengths, the tip of the chromosome in your DNA. Short telomeres become weaker and therefore, your cells age faster.

However, another study conducted by scientists at the University of California San Francisco provides hope. The length of your telomere can be affected by adopting healthy habits.

Brain Tip: Josine Verhoeven, a researcher at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, suggests that exercise can help to maintain your telomere length. Aim to add more movement to your day. Physical activity helps to decrease your stress levels and increase the blood flow to your brain.

2. Anxiety harms your memory recall.

Anxiety happens when worrisome thoughts continually play in your head. This constant mental stress will empty your energy reserves. It becomes harder to remember new information and to recall old information. Your brain becomes locked in a pattern of anxiety and leaves no room for new memories to form, which makes it difficult to get a full night of sleep. Sleep is the time when our brain consolidates new memories and what we learned throughout the day.

study out of the University of California has found that losing sleep can make your brain susceptible to the type of memory loss connected to dementia.

Brain Tip: Consider therapy to reduce the stress of anxiety such as:

  • Acupuncture
  • Counseling
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Naturopath treatments

Even simply talking to a friend about your anxieties can be helpful.

3. Anxiety raises stress levels.

The purpose of stress is to give your body and brain the energy it needs to deal with an intense situation. Your blood pressure goes up. You breathe quicker. Your heart beats faster. Your senses are sharper. You hear, see and smell everything more clearly.

But stress should only be short term. Your brain and body need to return to a comfortable state as soon as possible, or else damage to the blood vessels in your brain can occur.

Brain Tip: Try to include regular relaxation techniques in your day. Practicing deep breathing, meditation or stretching relieves the stress in your brain. It also signals to your body that you can relax.

4. Anxiety reduces your cognitive function.

In an emergency, extra oxygen travels to the brain to help you be more alert. The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain responsible for:

  • Awareness of what is going on around you
  • Decision making
  • Flexible thinking
  • Focus
  • Memory

A loss of these functions is a symptom of dementia. Chronic anxiety also leads to changes in the prefrontal cortex.

Brain Tip: Focus on what is happening around you. Research has shown that when you maintain close relationships with your family and friends, it improves your cognitive function. Emotional support provides a safety net to help you cope with chronic stress and reduce your risk of dementia.

Anxiety triggers your brain and body to live in a constant state of stress, which can be to blame for the cognitive decline that leads to dementia.

Addressing your anxiety could be one way to decrease your risk of the disease. The other benefit is that it makes you able to enjoy today as well.

What types of anxiety do you see in yourself or a senior loved one? What practical tips do you use to help yourself cope? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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Crystal Jo

Crystal Jo

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