Do you get exalted for virtually anything?
Do you get angry when something doesn’t go as you planned?
Do you get stressed for the little mishaps of everyday life?
Each of these emotions and moods have an impact on your body and, of course, on the brain. We can imagine the emotions like small drops. One by one they do not cause serious damage and may not have effects on the body, but when build up, day after day, they can fill the jar.
The academic medicine started only now to recognize the impact of emotions and personality’s characteristics in the appearance and aggravation of diseases, but currently we are conducting a number of studies showing the impact that the emotional state has on our health.
In this regard, a recent study conducted at the Karolinska Institute reported what would be the personality trait that increases the most the likelihood of developing dementia. Undoubtedly, the results are very interesting because, unlike genetics, the personality expression is something that we can influence, that we can change, to reduce the risk of suffering from a disease that already affects 47.5 million people worldwide.
Dementia: The disease that steals memories
Every year are reported 7.7 million new cases of dementia and it is estimated that by 2050 they will triple. It is a cruel disease, since it steals us the best memories and then, gradually, prevents us from recognizing our loved ones, erasing the traces of who we were and who we love.
Now a group of American and Swedish scientists have published a study in which 1,082 twins were followed for 28 years. During this period, the participants were subjected to different personality test every three years. This way was possible to find out that anxiety is the characteristic affecting the most the risk of developing dementia. Anxious people showed to be, no more and no less, that 48% more likely to develop dementia.
What is the “trait anxiety”?
Trait anxiety is a term used to refer to a characteristic of the personality relatively stable over time. It is a tendency of the person to react anxiously to different situations, a predisposition to perceive facts as dangerous or threatening, and respond to these with severe anxiety.
Why anxiety can cause dementia?
Researchers say that the master key in the relationship between anxiety and dementia lies in cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”. In fact, are countless the studies showing what are the damages caused by high levels of cortisol in the structure and functioning of the brain.
In this regard, a study conducted by the University of Iceland with 4,244 elderly, found that high levels of cortisol, measured in saliva when people just woke up, were related to a decrease in the amount of gray matter and volume of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that plays a key role in memory. This and other studies suggest that cortisol has a toxic effect on the brain, especially on the areas associated with memory formation.
However, one of the most decisive research in this direction was made at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. These researchers worked with 309 seniors and found that elevated cortisol levels were associated with a higher risk of developing dementia, regardless of APOE-ε4, a molecule that increases the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease by more than 50%. This means that, beyond genetic, in many cases the emotional states are crucial in the appearance of many diseases, including dementia.
Now we know this for sure, anxiety is not a good traveling companion. Therefore, it is best to do everything possible to fight anxiety.
Petkus, A. J. et. Al. (2016) Anxiety is associated with increased risk of dementia in older Swedish twins. Alzheimers Dement; 12(4): 399-406.
Geerlings, M. I. et. Al. (2015) Salivary cortisol, brain volumes, and cognition in community-dwelling elderly without dementia. Neurology; 85(11): 976-983.
Lara, V. P. et. Al. (2013) High cortisol levels are associated with cognitive impairment no-dementia (CIND) and dementia. Clinica Chimica Acta; 423(23): 18–22.