There’s a growing body of clinical evidence connecting generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to a significantly increased risk of developing dementia later in life. According to University of Southern California researchers, people who experience periods of high anxiety in their lives have a 48 percent higher risk of developing dementia later in life. The connection between anxiety and dementia may lie in how anxiety impacts the brain.
Anxiety’s Impact on Brain Function
Chemistry is the basis of brain function and communication. Information from the body and its environment is transmitted to the brain via a multitude of chemical processes. The chemical interactions and reactions taking place in the brain regulate the body’s systems and functions, sending messages throughout the body to respond to stimuli and initiate voluntary actions. Chemical processes are the essence of cognition itself—the source of conscious thought and emotion.
Different thoughts and emotions produce different chemical actions in the brain. Stress and anxiety flood the brain with stress hormones, including cortisol. This process is the basis of the “fight-or-flight” response. Over time, continuously high levels of cortisol can damage the hippocampus (the site of important memory functions) and the frontal cortex, where the brain’s higher-order thinking takes place. Damage to these parts of the brain may leave the brain more vulnerable to dementia.
Anxiety & Memory Formation
Anxiety can have a dramatic impact on energy levels. When older adults experience anxiety, negative thoughts can take over and block out everything else. If these negative thought patterns become a constant cycle, it can drain the body’s energy reserves to the point where it prevents the brain from preserving information. These anxiety spirals can cause thought patterns to become locked in continuous loops, leaving no space for the retention of information. Anxiety can also have a dramatic impact on sleep quality. When anxiety causes seniors to lose sleep, their brains aren’t able to rest, recharge, and imprint memories every day, leaving the brain at higher risk for the long-term memory loss associated with conditions such as dementia.
If you’re concerned about your loved one’s risk of developing dementia, consider hiring a professional caregiver with training in effective methods of cognitive stimulation. Not every senior has the same care needs, which means they don’t all need the same type of home care service. Rockwall families can rely on Home Care Assistance to provide individualized care plans to meet your elderly loved one’s unique care needs. Our holistic Balanced Care Method was designed to help seniors focus on healthy lifestyle habits such as eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining strong social ties, and our Cognitive Therapeutics Method offers mentally stimulating activities that can stave off cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia.
The Impact of Anxiety on the Body
The potential connection between anxiety and cognitive decline may be a result of the physiological impact of anxiety on the brain. Chronic anxiety can cause the brain to age more rapidly. When aging adults experience persistent anxiety, it can shorten their telomeres, which are the structures at the end of chromosomes. These structures are essential for proper cell division and the retention of genetic data. When telomeres are shortened, the cellular aging process can be accelerated and lead to decreased function in brain cells, which in turn leaves the brain at higher risk for dementia.
Caring for a loved one can be a source of anxiety and worry, so it’s important for you to take the time to rest your own mind and body. Family caregivers need to care for their own wellbeing. If you’re caring for an aging loved one and are feeling overwhelmed, consider hiring a professional caregiver to provide respite care. Rockwall families who want to prevent burnout can turn to Home Care Assistance. One of our professional caregivers can assist your loved one at home while you take a nap, go to work, run errands, or go on vacation.
The Importance of Being Proactive
If GAD or chronic stress is a problem, be proactive in learning how to help your loved one address it. Common treatments for these conditions include cognitive therapy, dietary modifications, exercise, yoga, and meditation. Your parent can reduce his or her age-related dementia risk by engaging in activities that give the brain a good workout, such as playing musical instruments, learning a foreign language, and doing word or number puzzles. Staying socially active and interacting with people of all age groups also keeps the brain healthy.
Caring for a senior loved one can be challenging for families who don’t have expertise or professional training in home care, but this challenge doesn’t have to be faced alone. Family caregivers can turn to Home Care Assistance for the help they need. We provide high-quality live-in and respite care as well as comprehensive Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s care. For compassionate, reliable in-home care, trust the experienced professionals from Home Care Assistance. Reach out to one of our dedicated Care Managers today at (972) 722-7833 to learn about the high quality of our in-home care services.