Dementia affects more than 850,000 people in the UK, according to the NHS.
The condition is the name given to a group of symptoms linked to an ongoing decline in brain function.
It’s a neurodegenerative condition, meaning symptoms tend to get worse over time.
Dementia symptoms can include mood changes, struggling to follow a conversation, difficulty concentrating and movement problems.
But, middle-aged people with anxiety could be at risk of developing dementia in later life, a study has claimed.
Anxiety could be linked to dementia, according to scientists at the University of Southampton and University College London.
It’s not clear whether the anxiety instigates the development of dementia, or whether the mental health condition is an early warning sign of the neurodegenerative condition.
An abnormal stress response could speed up brain cell ageing, the scientists claimed.
The ageing of brain cells, along with changes to the central nervous system, increases the chances of dementia.
These abnormal stress responses are typical of moderate to severe anxiety, they said.
“Whether reducing anxiety in middle age would result in reduced risk of dementia remains an open question,” the researchers said.
“Non-pharmacological therapies, including talking therapies and mindfulness-based interventions and meditation practices, that are known to reduce anxiety in midlife, could have a risk reducing effect, although this is yet to be thoroughly researched.”
Doctors should consider anxiety a risk factor for dementia, due to its high prevalence, they added. That also goes for depression.
Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Head of Research, Dr Sara Imarisio, said: “Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression have been linked to dementia before and many overlapping symptoms make a dementia diagnosis difficult.
“It’s important to remember that just because there is an association between the two factors does not necessarily mean that anxiety causes dementia.
“Dementia is caused by a complex mix of risk factors including age and genetics, and although this study looked at dementia in people more than 10 years after being diagnosed with anxiety, we know the diseases leading to dementia can begin in the brain up to 20 years before any symptoms show.”
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