Does anxiety affect your mind? People suffering from symptoms of anxiety and stress often find that their ability to think clearly is affected, and their memory and decision- making abilities also tend to suffer. But does anxiety have any long term effects on your mental ability? A new study has found that suffering from anxiety creates an increased risk of developing dementia in later life.
Anxiety and Cognitive Impairment
Mental disorders like depression and anxiety are known to produce mild cognitive impairment (MCI). These impairments include such symptoms as reduced memory, reduced ability to process information and impaired reasoning abilities. Suffering from mild cognitive impairment greatly increases the risk of developing dementia from 1-2% of the population to 10-15% of those with MCI. Given this link it is important to know whether suffering from anxiety increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. If it does then overcoming anxiety becomes even more important- not just for your current wellbeing but for your ability to live a full life in your later years.
To examine this link the study conducted a meta-analysis of all past research into anxiety, cognitive impairment and dementia. 20 studies were identified which analysed samples from community studies and patients receiving treatment for MCI.
By analysing the results from all these different studies it was found that anxiety does have a strong link to cognitive impairment and dementia. Links were found between anxiety and impairment in a range of different mental functions, including executive functioning (a person’s general ability to manage themselves and plan their lives), attention, and many other areas. Overall anxiety was found to account for 6.5% of the risk of cognitive impairment and 7.9% of the risk of developing dementia, making anxiety a major risk factor for reduced mental ability in later life.
The effect was found to be strongest in those over 80, meaning that getting treatment for anxiety in older adults is especially important to prevent the onset of cognitive decline.
Cause of Effect?
One interpretation of these results is that anxiety leads to a greater risk of cognitive decline. However, it is possible that the reverse is also true- cognitive decline and dementia may lead to anxiety. It would be natural for someone who is experiencing a reduced ability to think clearly to become anxious about the symptoms they are experiencing. This could mean that anxiety is a prodormal symptom of dementia, which means it is an early symptom or a warning sign which appears before the main symptoms of dementia appear.
Implications in Treatment for Anxiety
These findings show a strong link between anxiety and decreased cognitive functioning, especially in older adults. This means that learning how to cope with anxiety and getting treatment early is incredibly important.
Anxiety disorders make everyday life much more difficult and getting professional anxiety treatment is important in helping you to live your fullest life. But this research shows that it is also important to protect your mind from decline in older adulthood.