How Depression and Anxiety Relate to Cognitive Decline

As we’ve pointed out, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are not caused by one thing, but by a combination of different risk factors: Poor diet, lack of exercise, genetics, and limited brain stimulation. Studies are also starting to show that anxiety and depression may also contribute to cognitive decline.

Anxiety affects 3.3 million Americans and depression affects 15 million. Among all those who suffer from these disorders only about one third seek treatment. Suffering from a psychiatric brain disorder adds stress to the brain, which can lead to cognitive decline.

Depression and anxiety raise cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone." When stress levels in the brain increase the neurotransmitters begin to function improperly. More specifically, serotonin levels decrease. Serotonin is the “feel good” neurotransmitter and cortisol tends to negate it.

It makes sense that if we add more stress to our brains then the brain is going to have a difficult time functioning properly. The same reasoning is applied to heart health, for example. Less stress helps regulate normal blood pressure and better heart rates.

The good news is anxiety and depression can both be managed. The first step to management is acknowledging that you may be suffering from either or both.

Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge

  • Irritability

  • Muscle tension

  • Difficulty controlling worry, trembling

  • Poor concentration

Symptoms of Depression

  • Loss of interest

  • Mood swings

  • Uncontrolled sadness

  • Guilt and hopelessness

  • Agitation and excessive crying

  • Change in appetite

It is important to note that there are degrees with which one might be experiencing anxiety and depression. Not only does ignoring symptoms contribute to added stress on the brain they may worsen over time. No matter what levels of the above you may be feelings it’s not a bad idea to talk to health care professional to get a better understanding of what you are experiencing.

Your best defense, like with many illnesses, is offense. If you feel like you are suffering from any of the above symptoms, no matter how mild, ask for help. Working with a mental health counselor or finding the right medication or a combination of both are straightforward methods of care. Again, a healthy diet, proper exercise and stress reducing activities are also very helpful. They all require diligence, practice and patience. While the care is simply defined hard work is necessary in order to be successful.

Again, there is no one cause that leads directly to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Nor is any one, or a mix of strategies, a surefire way to prevent cognitive decline. But, we do know that taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, can have a huge impact on reducing your risk. As always, you are not alone. Help is always a phone call away.