10 Apr, 2024

When your loved one gets diagnosed with dementia, you’ll find yourself wondering what has caused or contributed to it. Was it the heart disease that runs within the family, an injury that affected their brain or a mental health disorder that caused them to feel the extremes of all negative emotions?

Depression and anxiety lead to forgetfulness, confusion and poor concentration. Studies of the link between mental health disorders and dementia are ongoing. The world’s genius minds are still figuring out how one affects the other. What they’ve learned so far is there’s a positive connection between the two. Learn more to find out how a high mental health risk can elevate the incidence of dementia.

Do Mental Health Conditions Increase Dementia Risk?

Research suggests that mental health conditions may elevate the risk of cognitive decline. The link between the two is complex. Scientists conduct ongoing studies into how depression or anxiety disorders can raise the brain’s susceptibility to dementia. One finding is tied to how chronic stress and biological changes associated with mental health issues may prompt brain changes that predispose someone to it.

Mental Illness May Affect Dementia Risk

So, can mental illness cause dementia? One theory is that stress plays a role in this dynamic. Depression and anxiety can cause prolonged stress, degrading the brain and its functions. Here are three ways the two are associated.

Stress triggers adverse brain changes

Chronic stress can damage the hippocampus, a part of the brain crucial for memory and learning. First, it wreaks havoc on immunity, metabolism and the cardiovascular system.

Over time, this damage can increase the brain’s vulnerability to dementia by impairing the hippocampus. Moreover, mental health conditions often coexist with other complications, like heart diseases known to raise the risk of dementia.

Anxiety disorders have the same effect on cognition. Feeling persistently anxious can cause a prolonged stress response, affecting the brain over time. In a review, researchers found that people diagnosed with anxiety in midlife are more likely to develop dementia within 10 years. They concluded the condition to be a risk factor for late-life dementia.

Mental Health Conditions Manifest Dementia-Like Symptoms

Having a mental disorder doesn’t mean a person will develop dementia. However, it can increase the possibility of affecting cognition.

Depression is strongly linked with a higher risk of memory loss problems. Severe or recurrent episodes of depressive states appear to heighten this risk significantly.

Those who have it may experience memory loss or trouble concentrating, which can be mistaken for early signs of a neurological disease. Based on an earlier study, there’s a direct correlation between depression and cognitive ability. A clinically diagnosed individual may experience attention and memory issues, confusion and forgetfulness.

Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are also being explored for their potential connections to brain diseases. These disorders trigger significant changes in brain function and structure, which may predispose someone to dementia.

Mental Health Conditions Lead to Poor Quality of Life

The exact mechanisms aren’t fully understood, but mental disorders may increase the risk for dementia through combined biological, psychological, and social factors.

For example, someone with chronic depression is less likely to engage in physical and social activities and seek regular medical care, leading to untreated health issues that can contribute to cognitive impairment.

Moreover, some medications used for treatment may have side effects that impact cognitive health in the long run. Ongoing research is crucial to fully understand these connections and develop strategies to mitigate the risks.

When mental health problems and dementia coexist, managing both becomes more challenging. Your doctor will likely adjust the care plan to address all symptoms. Understanding the relationship between mental health and dementia is vital for developing effective treatments and care strategies.

Dementia Also Increases the Risks for Mental Health Conditions

The relationship between mental illness and dementia is bidirectional. The onset of dementia can also trigger mental health issues. It’s quite prevalent for people with early-stage dementia to experience depression, anxiety, or even paranoia.

Research on 1.7 million people aged 21 to 60 found that those diagnosed with a mental health disorder were over four times more likely to develop a neurological problem than healthy individuals.

Recognizing and treating these mental health issues is essential for improving quality of life. Early intervention can help manage symptoms more effectively and support both individuals with dementia and their families.

Seek medical help if you notice any changes in your loved one’s memory, thinking patterns, or mood. Early diagnosis is crucial for managing or even reversing both brain conditions and dementia.

Taking Charge of Brain Health: What You Can Do

Studies have confirmed a link between mental illness and dementia, but it doesn’t mean you can do nothing about it. Educate your loved one to proactively protect their brain. Here are a few tips.

  • Prioritize mental well-being: Encourage them to seek treatment for any mental health conditions they might have. Therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyle changes can all make a difference.
  • Get moving: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day. Brisk walking, swimming, dancing or anything that gets your heart rate up is essential for the brain.
  • Embrace a brain-healthy lifestyle: Encourage a loved one to incorporate regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and sufficient sleep into their routine. These habits can help keep their brain sharp.
  • Challenge their cognitive skills: Suggest activities that stimulate the brain, like learning a new skill, playing brain games, or pursuing enjoyable hobbies.
  • Stay socially connected: Strong social connections are an essential facet of mental and physical well-being. Ensure they have time to engage in meaningful conversations with friends and family, join social clubs, or volunteer in their community.
  • Regular doctor visits: Schedule regular medical checkups and discuss concerns they may have about brain health. Early detection and intervention can reverse any signs of cognitive decline.
  • Manage stress: Chronic pressure takes a toll on cognitive function. Ask them to learn stress management skills, like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.

Talk to your primary care provider for personalized advice on creating a lifestyle that optimally supports brain health.

A Healthy Lifestyle Can Lower Dementia Risks

Can mental illness cause dementia? In some cases, it can but the link is reversible with exercise, adequate sleep, a healthy diet, social connections and other positive lifestyle shifts. If an older family member has a history, visit your doctor regularly to examine and spot signs of cognitive decline early.

Reach out for professional help. Enlist a caregiver, therapist or your primary doctor to get all the support you need during a difficult time.

Syed Rizvi

Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.

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