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Mid-life anxiety may be linked to dementia in later life

The study does not say if active treatment could curb the risk.

Image: Shutterstock/chuugo

DEMENTIA MAY BE linked to “moderate to severe” mid-life anxiety, according to new research.

The analysis of available evidence, published today in the online journal BMJ Open, suggests the link, but does not say if active treatment could curb the risk.

There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that mental illness may be associated with dementia in older age. However, it’s not clear if these are initial (prodromal) symptoms before the advent of fully fledged disease or if it acts as an independent risk factor.

To probe this further, the researchers trawled research databases for studies looking at the association between mid-life anxiety, in isolation or combined with depression, and the development of dementia.

Only four out of more than 3,500 studies met these criteria, but they involved a total of nearly 30,000 people.

The findings back up recent evidence pointing to a link between anxiety and risk of mild cognitive impairment, and lend weight to the known association between depression and dementia, researchers say.

An abnormal stress response, which is typical of moderate to severe anxiety, may speed up brain cell ageing and degenerative changes in the central nervous system, so increasing vulnerability to dementia, they suggest.

“Whether reducing anxiety in middle age would result in reduced risk of dementia remains an open question,” they write.

However, they say that given the prevalence of anxiety, it may be worth doctors considering anxiety a risk factor for dementia.

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