Does anxiety make you at greater risk of dementia in later life?

The links between depression and dementia have already been shown in studies – in fact, depression in middle age can double the risk of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. But what about anxiety?

A study published in the BMJ earlier this year concluded that the symptoms of anxiety are also commonly found in those suffering from dementia. In fact, the study suggested that people who suffer from anxiety are 48% – 62% more likely to suffer from dementia in later life.

Is it a bit of chicken and egg? Does anxiety cause dementia? Or do the symptoms and effects of dementia cause anxiety?

Well, the same study also showed that there is a significant increase in the number of patients receiving a diagnosis of dementia who had also experienced significant anxiety symptoms over a period of at least ten years prior to the diagnosis of dementia.

Some researchers argue that anxiety can be an indication of problems in the brain storing up for later in life. Indeed, anxiety has been shown to be experienced by some patients who also show a cognitive decline and then go on to receive a diagnosis of dementia later in life.

It is already widely accepted that lifestyle habits such as exercise, hobbies and a good social life can all help against developing dementia in later life, but these are also activities which can help in combating feelings of anxiety and which are generally good in promoting good mental health, as well as good physical health.

With over 200,000 people diagnosed with dementia each year and an aging population, the focus is now increasingly on prevention. It is not yet clear however, whether reducing anxiety symptoms in middle age would also mean a clear reduction the risk of dementia.

What is useful is for clinicians to consider the possibility that someone suffering from severe depression and anxiety in middle age, may also go on to develop dementia. Someone with these diagnoses should be closely monitored for any signs of cognitive decline which may be an early indication of dementia. At least with this, earlier diagnosis and treatment of dementia becomes more possible.

Dr Winbow and Prof Hale are both highly experienced in treating patients suffering from depression, anxiety and the effects of dementia. To book an appointment, please contact us at Private Psychiatry.

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