People who have experienced high levels of anxiety in their lives have a 48% higher risk of developing dementia.
Dr Andrew Petkus, who led the new study, said:
“Anxiety, especially in older adults, has been relatively understudied compared to depression.
Depression seems more evident in adulthood, but it’s usually episodic.
Anxiety, though, tends to be a chronic lifelong problem, and that’s why people tend to write off anxiety as part of someone’s personality.”
The scientists followed over one thousand twins in Sweden over 28 years.
Each pair were tested every three years and screened for dementia symptoms.
Amongst identical twins, it was the more anxious of the pair that was at a higher risk of developing dementia.
This is the first study to find a link between anxiety and a higher risk of developing dementia.
Professor Margaret Gatz, a co-author of the study, described those in the high-anxiety group:
“They are people who you would say operate at a ‘high level of anxiety’.
They are frantic, frazzled people.
Those in the high anxiety group were about 1.5 times more likely to develop dementia.”
The link between anxiety and dementia could be a result of cortisol — the so-called ‘stress hormone’ — damaging the brain.
There may also be genetic factors that help explain the link.
The study was published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia (Petkus et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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