Dementia doesn’t have a single cause. It develops due to an intricate web of factors that scientists still don’t fully understand. To prevent dementia from forming, it’s important to avoid risk factors such as anxiety. Here are a few ways anxiety could lead to dementia.
1. Causes Amyloid Accumulation
Scientists may not understand exactly why dementia develops, but they do know what happens in the brain as the disease progresses. A protein that naturally occurs in the brain, known as beta-amyloid, starts to form toxic clumps. These protein plaques get lodged between neurons, and they interrupt healthy cell function and communication. As the protein plaques continue to accumulate, people with dementia experience decreased mental abilities. A study released in 2015 showed that anxiety significantly hastened cognitive decline in seniors with existing amyloid accumulations.
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2. Affects Quality of Life
The Australian Imaging, Biomarker, & Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing (AIBL) didn’t offer a conclusive explanation for the link between anxiety and dementia. Nonetheless, some scientists have suggested the side effects of generalised anxiety disorder create a cognitive environment more susceptible to dementia. Anxiety often disrupts sleep patterns in the elderly. When seniors don’t get enough sleep, they don’t give their brains the chance to create new memories and get rid of toxic detritus. Anxiety-induced sleep loss can lead to inattentiveness, poor information recall, and eventually the kind of memory loss associated with dementia.
3. Stimulates the Release of Stress Hormones
Anxiety and stress go hand in hand. For people with generalised anxiety disorder, the body responds to elevated stress levels by pumping out greater quantities of the stress hormone cortisol. The stress hormone can raise blood pressure levels and heart rate. When seniors are anxious on a regular basis, cortisol puts too much strain on the blood vessels. Eventually, the strain can damage the cardiovascular system and the brain.
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4. Impacts Cognitive Function
Chronic anxiety can damage the prefrontal cortex, including the part of the brain that regulates emotional responses and decision-making. If this area is already damaged by anxiety, it’s more likely to be impacted by the neurodegenerative effects of Alzheimer’s. The cognitive damage caused by anxiety isn’t irreversible. With appropriate treatment, seniors can strengthen their brains and diminish their risk for dementia. Popular treatment options for seniors include cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness meditation, regular exercise, and antidepressant medications. Most doctors now believe anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines may cause more harm than good. If your senior loved one is living with chronic anxiety, schedule an appointment with his or her doctor to discuss possible treatment options.
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