Managing My 'Worrywart' Ways: Research on Anxiety & Cognitive Decline

Anxiety is something I personally struggle with on a daily basis. So, when the headline on my Google alert said that anxiety may accelerate the pace of Alzheimer’s, like most people who suffer from anxiety, I am worried, as is the cross we bear.

What does the research say?

Though not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, study authors presented the findings at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, according to a press release. Methods for examining patients was an MRI of the brain, paired with clinical surveys to measure anxiety and genetic risk assessments for Alzheimer’s disease. The study group included 339 patients, whose average age was 72; each person had a baseline diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment.1

What were the findings from this research? Independent of any other factors, specifically the genetic marker and the volume of the brain in certain areas, anxiety was associated with cognitive decline. Ultimately, the press release indicates that this link could be used to improve the screening and management of patients who have early mild cognitive impairment.1

What do the research results mean?

These research findings beg the question, at least for me: How does this affect our community? What are the key takeaways?

Broadly, the more we know about Alzheimer’s disease, the more capable we are to fight it. Practically, it’s not much in the way of a breakthrough. However, similar to other research - like keeping your blood pressure in a good range may reduce the risk of developing dementia and that the Mediterranean diet is good for the brain - this study is another tool at our disposal.

As someone who has multiple people in my family tree who have had Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, this is a health concern that I’m worried about (are we seeing a theme here?). And, like those other studies, this provides me with some action steps so as not to feel so helpless against this disease. (If you've read my other posts, you know I like action steps.)

The action steps

Now, I have another reason to find healthy ways to manage my anxiety. Some of the ways that help me or have helped me include having a consistent routine, moving my body regularly, mindfulness practices, talk therapy, meditation, and yoga. Living through a pandemic, some of these have changed, but I find my mind more grounded when I get outside every day, when I take a break from my apartment with a long walk and when I can find time to take a bath or read a good book in bed with no other obligations for whatever length of time I can manage to find.

Managing anxiety can be a tough business, especially when it's Alzheimer's that you're worried about. But also, if I didn’t have anxiety, I might not be so intentional in searching out possible ways to help in the search for preventing and curing Alzheimer’s.

So perhaps being a 'worrywart', as my family used to dismissively call it when I was a kid, has its benefits? Yeah, let's go with that.

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