Having moderate or severe anxiety in midlife is linked to dementia later on, new research finds.
Anxiety is strongly linked to the personality trait of neuroticism, which includes sadness, irritability and self-consciousness.
The extra risk could be related to the stress caused by a mental health condition.
The stress response to anxiety could accelerate the aging process in the brain, increasing cognitive decline.
Depression has already been linked to a doubling of the risk in developing dementia.
Tackling anxiety and depression in midlife could be a way to reduce dementia risk, the study’s authors write:
“Non-pharmacological therapies, including talking therapies, mindfulness-based interventions, and meditation practices, that are known to reduce anxiety in midlife, could have a risk-reducing effect, although this is yet to be thoroughly researched.”
The study was a meta-analysis, a type of research that pools together the results of other studies.
The researchers found four large studies examining the link between dementia and anxiety that together included almost 30,000 people.
All four studies found that moderate to severe anxiety was linked to developing dementia later on.
The researchers write:
“Clinically significant anxiety in midlife was associated with an increased risk of dementia over an interval of at least 10 years.”
Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression have been linked to dementia before and many overlapping symptoms make a dementia diagnosis difficult.
This review took a high-quality approach, combining findings from four existing studies exploring anxiety as a risk factor for dementia.[…]
It’s important to remember that just because there is an association between the two factors does not necessarily mean that anxiety causes dementia.
Dementia is caused by a complex mix of risk factors including age and genetics and although this study looked at dementia in people more than ten years after being diagnosed with anxiety, we know the diseases leading to dementia can begin in the brain up to twenty years before any symptoms show.”
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
The study was published in the journal BMJ Open (Gimson et al., 2018).