The Relationship Between Anxiety and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer's Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that is characterized by permanent and progressive memory loss along with personality changes and functional/cognitive impairment. Anxiety disorder can be characterized by chronic, intrusive, and distressing thoughts of a worrying nature. Having either of these medical conditions can drastically affect all aspects of the life of the individual who faces it, and yet some individuals develop both, or even have one lead to another.

Anxiety is a common symptom of people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It can actually be a symptom which can be caused by the development of the disease. Now, there’s another relationship being considered. Research shows that chronic levels of psychological distress raise levels of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol levels remain consistently high for an extended period of time. This is thought to have a slow, toxic effect on the hippocampus, the memory and learning center of the brain. Deterioration of this region of the brain can then lead to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

From this, one might conclude that treating anxiety disorder quickly might help prevent the development of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Not so fast.

A study by the University of Bordeaux’s (France) Ph.D, Dr. Sophie Billioti de Gage, suggests that some anxiety medications taken by adults may actually increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. The drugs being questioned are in a group called benzodiazepines, a widely-prescribed group of sedatives that includes Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. At this point, evidence indicates that use of these drugs beyond a three-month period imposes a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s in older patients.

There is a clear relationship between anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease. Not only can anxiety be a symptom of Alzheimer’s, but many now believe that it can be a major contributor to its development. Conversely, Alzheimer’s may cause people to develop anxiety.

If you are struggling with anxiety, or someone you know is facing the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it may be time to take action.