Dementia: The feeling in midlife that can precede a dementia diagnosis by a decade – study

Steve Thompson recalls signs of his early-onset dementia

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Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia so it’s natural to worry about misplacing keys and forgetting names in midlife. However, memory loss is not always the first sign of brain decline. A BMJ study found anxiety can precede a dementia diagnosis by 10 years.

“Anxiety is an increasingly recognised predictor of cognitive deterioration in older adults and in those with mild cognitive impairment,” the study researchers wrote in the BMJ.

They noted that anxiety may be an “independent risk factor” for dementia, operationally defined here as preceding dementia diagnosis by up to 10 years.

To further investigate this hypothesis, a systematic review of the literature on anxiety diagnosis and long-term risk for dementia was performed following published guidelines.

Databases Medline, PsycINFO and Embase were searched for peer-reviewed journals until 8 March 2017.

What did the researchers find out?

The studies, which had a combined sample size of 29, 819 participants, found a positive association between clinically significant anxiety and future dementia.

The researchers concluded: “Clinically significant anxiety in midlife was associated with an increased risk of dementia over an interval of at least 10 years.

They added that the finding may indicate that anxiety may be a risk factor for “late-life dementia”.

Anxiety – what does it feel like?

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.

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As the NHS points out, everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life.

“For example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview.”

However, “some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives”, explains the health body.

It’s important to note that anxiety can also follow a dementia diagnosis.

As the Alzheimer’s Society explains, “people in the early stages of dementia may have anxiety that is linked directly to their worries about their memory and the future”.

According to the charity, people with vascular dementia often have better insight and awareness of their condition than people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“This may explain why it’s more common for people with vascular dementia to have anxiety.”

Vascular dementia refers to changes to memory, thinking, and behaviour resulting from conditions that affect the blood vessels in the brain.

Why it’s important to get diagnosed

Although there is no cure for dementia at the moment, an early diagnosis means its progress can be slowed down in some cases, so the person may be able to maintain their mental function for longer.

“A diagnosis helps people with dementia get the right treatment and support,” explains the NHS.

The health body continues: “It can also help them, and the people close to them, to prepare for the future.

“With treatment and support, many people are able to lead active, fulfilled lives with dementia.”

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