If you’re the kind of person who is easily frazzled and stressed out, you might have a higher chance of experiencing memory loss and learning problems later in life.
A new study from the University of Southern California has recently found a link between anxiety and dementia. Dementia comprises a variety of symptoms associated with impaired brain function, with the most common being memory loss. This is the first study that has found anxiety to be a risk factor separate from the more studied issue of depression.
By tracking over 1000 participants in Sweden over 28 years in an ongoing study, the research has found that people who experience high stress levels have a higher risk of developing dementia. The participants consist of sets of identical and fraternal twins, taking genetic influences into account, who were evaluated every three years with in-person surveys and tests for signs of cognitive decline or memory loss.
Results showed that participants who experienced a high level of anxiety at a point in their life were 48% more likely to develop memory problems. Even though the anxiety was self-described and not a clinical diagnosis, the participants who developed memory issues were those who had recorded higher levels of anxiety than their twin, who did not show memory issues.
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Anxiety and memory loss
In the future, the research team hopes to evaluate the effects of any participants who were treated for anxiety compared to those who were untreated. For now, it seems uncertain if there is a relationship between the extent of anxiety and extent of memory loss.
It should be noted that previous studies have failed to find an association specifically between anxiety disorders and dementia. However, it is widely accepted that stress has effects on the brain.
Anxiety has been shown to increase levels of the hormone cortisol, and evidence suggests that chronically high cortisol levels can damage parts of the brain, including the hippocampus and frontal cortex. The hippocampus is vital for learning and long-term memory, and cortisol can attack the neurons of the hippocampus and lead to a reduction in it’s size. The frontal cortex is important for higher-level, rational thinking, and its function can be indirectly compromised when anxiety occurs.
How to handle anxiety
Taking care of your learning abilities and memory is a great reason to fight stress. Anxiety can lead to a lot of health problems in general, so it is to your advantage to learn stress-fighting techniques.
Luckily, there are ways to handle and even combat anxiety. Getting proper exercise and sleep are important, but meditation is also a highly recommended way to stay mentally healthy and fit. People suffering from anxiety disorders can sometimes benefit from medication and counseling including cognitive behavioral therapy, which is widely used and shown to be effective.