Can Anxiety Lead to Alzheimer’s?

Can Anxiety Lead To Alzheimer’s

Everybody experiences anxiety from time to time. It results from the fear or the worry that something unpleasant will happen. Anxiety disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), PTSD, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and social anxiety disorder, are characterized by excessive fear and anxiety that interfere with a person’s daily life. When feeling anxious, a person may experience physical changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and perspiration.

These disorders are typical; about 30% of adults will experience them at some point in their lives [1]. An estimated 40 million individuals in the United States suffer from them annually [2]. However, as if these sensations of anxiety and fear weren’t enough to deal with, studies indicate that older people who experience worsening anxiety symptoms may be more susceptible to Alzheimer’s [3].

Why is anxiety seen as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s?

Anxiety is regarded as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s due to its effect on the brain. Researchers have discovered links between anxiety and the buildup of several toxic proteins in the brain and brain shrinkage, which can result in a decline in cognitive function.

According to a study, elevated levels of beta-amyloid, a toxic protein that builds up in the brains of those who have Alzheimer’s and causes plaques, are correlated with increased anxiety [3]. The researchers found that compared to other depressive symptoms, such as loss of interest or sadness, anxiety symptoms increased over time in those with elevated brain beta-amyloid levels.

Anxiety-related repetitive negative thinking can also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Repetitive negative thinking (RNT), according to a study by scientists at University College London, can cause cognitive deterioration and increased amyloid and tau protein deposition [4]. Even though depression and anxiety in middle age are already risk factors for dementia, there may be an underlying reason why those who suffer from these disorders are more likely to get dementia.

Is anxiety a cause or a symptom of cognitive impairment?

People frequently seek cognitive assessments due to personality changes, such as elevated anxiety. While anxiety may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s, the stress of MCI (mild cognitive impairment) may also cause the symptoms to appear.

A study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America shows a link between anxiety and the faster progression of moderate cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer’s [5]. According to one of the authors, Dr. Maria Vittoria Spampinato, it is unclear if anxiety was a factor in the study that linked anxiety to cognitive impairment or if it was just a result of it.

The study indicated that MCI patients who experienced anxiety symptoms developed Alzheimer’s faster than those who did not, regardless of whether they had a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s or brain shrinkage.

What if you experience both anxiety and depression?

Many people across the world suffer from both depression and anxiety. According to estimates, 60% of people with anxiety also exhibit signs of depression [6]. When you have both of these symptoms, you increase your chances of acquiring dementia. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology, anxiety can accelerate the onset of dementia symptoms by three years and depression by two years in persons who develop Alzheimer’s [7]. The disease onset may occur even more quickly for those who suffer from depression and anxiety.

The lead author, Dr. Zachary A. Miller, and his team speculated that the presentation of depression in some patients could indicate a higher burden of neuroinflammation. It is because participants in the study who had depression were more inclined to have an autoimmune disease, and those who had anxiety were more likely to have a history of seizures. Both of these may cause neuroinflammation, increasing the Alzheimer’s risk.

Previous studies have already investigated the relationship between anxiety and reduced brain volume. However, Miller’s team believes that anxiety will lead to increased “neuronal hyperexcitability,” or overstimulation of the brain’s networks.

Having both depression and anxiety increases your risk overall, whether it is due to brain shrinkage or overstimulation.

Do anti-anxiety medications cause cognitive decline?

While taking an anxiety medication can help people with negative symptoms like excess stress, some anxiety and insomnia medications may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that Ativan, Xanax Valium, and other benzodiazepines may increase the chance of developing Alzheimer’s [8]. People can take them as needed or once a month, but using them more regularly can impair cognitive function.

Furthermore, anticholinergic medications may also increase the risk of dementia. These medications raised a person’s chance of dementia by up to 30%, according to research from the University of East Anglia in the UK [9]. Patients with depression, Parkinson’s, and incontinence often use these drugs. However, because some depression and anxiety medications overlap, it is advisable to consult your doctor about the risks of these medications.

Medications may still be helpful, though, if they lessen the symptoms of anxiety that cause Alzheimer’s. It is crucial to assess your level of risk and talk with your doctor about your best course of action.

Does treating anxiety symptoms lessen the risk of dementia?

Whether through prescription drugs, dietary adjustments, or a mix of the two, it can be beneficial to control anxiety symptoms. Reduced stress may lower your risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Additionally, overcoming the loneliness and isolation associated with anxiety can positively impact your general health.

References

  1. What are anxiety disorders?. American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders . Accessed: 28th April, 2023.
  2. Anxiety may be an early sign of Alzheimers. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320604. Published Online: 12th Jan, 2018, Accessed: 28th April, 2023.
  3. Donovan, N.J., Locascio, J.J., Marshall, G.A., Gatchel, J., Hanseeuw, B.J., Rentz, D.M., Johnson, K.A., Sperling, R.A. and Harvard Aging Brain Study, 2018. Longitudinal association of amyloid beta and anxious-depressive symptoms in cognitively normal older adults. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(6), pp.530-537.
  4. Marchant, N.L., Lovland, L.R., Jones, R., Pichet Binette, A., Gonneaud, J., Arenaza‐Urquijo, E.M., Chételat, G., Villeneuve, S. and PREVENT‐AD Research Group, 2020. Repetitive negative thinking is associated with amyloid, tau, and cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 16(7), pp.1054-1064.
  5. Anxiety Associated with Faster Alzheimer’s Disease Onset. RSNA Press Release. https://press.rsna.org/timssnet/media/pressreleases/14_pr_target.cfm?ID=2231. Published Online: 24th Nov, 2020. Accessed: 28th April, 2023.
  6. The Comorbidity of Anxiety and Depression. NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/blogs/nami-blog/january-2018/the-comorbidity-of-anxiety-and-depression. Published Online: 19th Jan. 2018. Accessed: 28th April, 2023.
  7. People with Depression, Anxiety may develop Alzheimer’s at Younger Age. News Release. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/518016. Published Online: 24th Feb, 2021. Accessed: 28th April, 2023.
  8. Lembke, A., Papac, J. and Humphreys, K., 2018. Our other prescription drug problem. The New England journal of medicine, 378(8), pp.693-695.
  9. Richardson, K., Fox, C., Maidment, I., Steel, N., Loke, Y.K., Arthur, A., Myint, P.K., Grossi, C.M., Mattishent, K., Bennett, K. and Campbell, N.L., 2018. Anticholinergic drugs and risk of dementia: case-control study. bmj, 361.
  10. Koop, K. Can Anxiety Cause Alzheimer’s Disease? Being Patient. https://www.beingpatient.com/can-anxiety-cause-alzheimers-disease/. Published Online: 27th April, 2023. Accessed: 28th April, 2023.
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