Can General Anxiety Disorder Cause Dementia?

Anxiety Disorder

Is there a link between anxiety and dementia? The answer appears to be a resounding yes. Anxiety is commonly seen in individuals with certain types of dementia. However, researchers are increasingly studying anxiety as a potential risk factor for dementia. Indeed, a growing body of research suggests that anxiety experienced earlier in life might have a causal effect on the development of dementia later in life.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder affecting more than 40 million U.S. adults. Considering just 43.2% get proper treatment, the implications for dementia risk are significant. Here’s what you need to know about anxiety and its potential role in the development of dementia. Plus, you’ll discover ways to keep your anxiety levels in check.

A growing body of research suggests that anxiety experienced earlier in life might have a causal effect on the development of dementia later in life. Click To Tweet


General anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent feelings of fear, worry, and unease. An individual’s anxious feelings are uncontrollable, and they are typically out of proportion for a particular situation or stressor.

This is different than the transitory anxiety we all experience. This type of anxiousness is usually related to an event or situation, such as the first day on a new job, a first date, or an exam. People who have general anxiety disorders worry and feel nervous most of the time about everyday activities that do not pose a threat. Anxiety is disproportionately more common in women, teens, and those affected with ADD/ADHD.

Common physical symptoms of anxiety include insomnia, heart palpitations (panic attacks), trouble concentrating, and dizziness. Anxiety disorder symptoms can run the gamut from mild (such as nervous feelings, tending to imagine the worst, or feeling tensed up) to severe (such as suicidal thoughts).

When anxiety goes untreated, it can wreak havoc in your life. It can put an individual at risk for other conditions and health issues such as:

Mounting research suggests that untreated anxiety may impact your brain in such a way that it also sets you up for dementia later in life.


Dementia is defined as a general and pervasive deterioration of memory, as well as at least one other cognitive ability, such as language and executive function. This can be due to various causes. The loss of cognitive function is pronounced enough to negatively impact an individual’s normal daily functioning, work, and social life.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of memory loss cases. But there are many other types of dementia, including:

  • Vascular dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
  • Alcohol-related dementia

Regardless of the type of dementia, memory loss is not normal, even for aging people.


There are multiple dementia causes or risk factors that lead to its development. In addition to the recent study findings suggesting anxiety as a risk factor, other common causes may include any of the following:

  • Depression
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Alcoholism and substance abuse
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI), including mild concussions
  • Family history of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia
  • Infections that can affect the brain, such as Lyme disease
  • Heart health issues
  • Type-2 diabetes and prediabetes
  • Genetic factors such as APOE4
  • Altered microbiome
  • Gum disease
  • Gender
  • Obesity and eating a poor diet
  • Untreated sleep apnea
  • Certain medications
  • Cancer/chemotherapy
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Hypertension or prehypertension
  • Chronic inflammation


A marked association between anxiety and dementia has been noted in multiple studies over the past decade. However, until recently, researchers were not sure if anxiety was an early symptom of dementia or an independent risk factor.

A systematic review published in the January 2022 issue of BMJ Open points to the latter. The review included four reliable studies involving close to 30,000 participants. All four studies indicated a positive connection between moderate to severe anxiety and the development of dementia later in life. The researchers concluded, “Clinically significant anxiety in midlife was associated with an increased risk of dementia over an interval of at least 10 years.”

What’s more, the review’s authors noted that the findings indicate anxiety may be a risk factor for late-life dementia – and not a symptom. The authors additionally suggested that the link may be explained by the excessive stress response triggered by the anxiety.

Indeed, chronic stress and anxiety can cause ongoing suppression of the prefrontal cortex, as well as hippocampus atrophy, research has noted. These actions contribute to the development of dementia.

Another study found that chronic phobic anxiety may shorten telomere length in middle-aged and older women. Telomeres are structures found at the ends of chromosomes and are made from DNA sequences and proteins. Like the end of a shoelace, telomeres cap and protect the end of a chromosome from getting tangled or frayed.

Telomere length shortens with age. Shortened telomere length is associated with a greater likelihood of disease and poor survival. The study indicated that untreated chronic phobic anxiety is a possible risk factor for accelerated aging. Other research shows that short telomeres are associated with a greater risk of neurological and psychiatric disorders including dementia.

Emotional dysregulation, which is common with anxiety disorders, may also play into the development of dementia recent research indicates. It appears that emotional dysregulation can adversely impact the posterior cingulate and the amygdala—areas heavily involved in autobiographical memory and regulating emotions.

Regardless of the specific cause, anxiety is undoubtedly linked to an increased risk of developing dementia, especially as we grow older.


You may wonder, “If anxiety is to blame for accelerated cognitive decline, does this mean that alleviating anxiety would minimize the risk of dementia?” It’s an excellent question that still remains unanswered by science.

That said, there are many lifestyle actions you can take that can relieve anxiety. This can make you feel better in the short term and may possibly protect you against memory loss issues in the future.


Here are five natural ways to reduce your anxiety levels.

1. Try psychotherapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps to address negative self-talk and is the most effective therapy for reducing anxiety. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is helpful in reducing stress and anxiety related to trauma.

2. Avoid foods that can increase anxiety.

For example, coffee is associated with higher levels of anxiety as are many inflammatory foods. Consider a calming alternative to coffee like green tea, which still promotes alertness and mental clarity. You can also take nutritional supplements with calming ingredients like l-theanine (extracted from green tea), GABA, saffron, or magnesium.

3. Try holistic and natural solutions.

Yoga, tai chi, biofeedback, and meditation have been shown to provide relaxation benefits according to research. Of course, a simple walk in nature can help alleviate anxiety too.

4. Practice diaphragmatic breathing.

Anxiety can constrict your breathing to rapid, shallow breaths, which may impact your blood’s oxygen levels and increase anxiety further. Calm your nervous system by repeating 10 cycles of deep breathing. Research shows that diaphragmatic breathing practices may help bring down stress and anxiety levels.

5. Try alternative calming methods.

Research indicates acupuncture may help to alleviate anxiety. Also, hypnosis, guided imagery, listening to soothing music, or progressive muscle relaxation may help to lessen anxiety and even offer additional benefits like better sleep.

If you struggle with anxiety, it doesn’t mean that you will develop dementia. But it is a warning signal to address it right away. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help.

Anxiety, dementia, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. excellent post!

    Comment by Doug Morris — October 18, 2023 @ 9:02 AM

  2. I have been doing some research on temporal interference therapy. Is this something that would be available at some oint at the AMEN clinic? I would like the Amen Clinic thoughts on this treatment. Thank you.

    Comment by Kristine Koetje Balder — October 30, 2023 @ 11:19 AM

  3. What supplements do u suggest for anxiety and to keep a healthy brain.

    Comment by Donna — October 31, 2023 @ 7:52 AM

  4. I'm a prime example of having a single MTHFR genetic variant that set me up to have an assortment of physical health problems as well as emotional health problems too. It took decades to find out about the single MTHFR genetic variant that sets us up for anxiety and possible insomnia that too many doctors just shrug off. I ended up with double anxiety genetic markers on top of the hazards from my single MTHFR. With late information on methyl-folate and methyl-B12, I'm trying to repair from brain fog as well as cellular damage. It didn't help to start out life with getting hooked on caring from a very early start in life from a couple of different life factors. Sharing this information as much as possible helps to reduce my stress. How many dementia people started out with MTHFR genetic problems? I would have if not assertive. Who is benefiting from keeping that information under wraps vs. networked to the general public?

    Comment by Elinor Nosker — October 31, 2023 @ 6:49 PM

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