Correlation Between Mental Health and Dementia in Middle Age Population

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Dementia, a decline in cognitive function that involves many symptoms from physical to psychological effects, is the seventh leading cause of death in the world. A new study revealed that mental health problems may lead to a higher risk of dementia.

Psychological distress can be a major cause of many different illnesses. It can often cause physical symptoms such as fatigue, migraines, high blood pressure, and more. It is crucial that we take care of our mental health just as we take care of our physical health.

What did the study find?

The study was based on a population-based, cross-sectional national FINRISK study surveys from 1972, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007 in Finland.

At follow-up visits, all participant results were linked to Finnish health registry data for dementia and mortality rates for each. The team analyzed data from May 2019 to April 2022 before conducting the study. Mental distress can refer to many different symptoms, including stress, depression, anxiety, and more.

A new study from JAMA Network Open found that poor mental health and vulnerability to dementia are linked. Conducted by the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, the University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland, the study says older people in particular should be wary of mental health problems, as this can lead to an increased risk of dementia.

The study gathered 67,688 participants between the ages of 25 and 64 years old. Mental health problems, such as stress, depression, fatigue, led to about a 17 to 24 percent increased risk of dementia in an etiological Poisson model, with a growth of 8 percent to 12 percent in the Fine-Gray model. The numbers suggest that poor mental health can lead to a higher risk of dementia.

“Our study suggests that symptoms of psychological distress, for example exhaustion, depressed mood and experience of stress, are risk factors for dementia, and not just prodromal symptoms of an underlying dementia disorder. [However], [w]e cannot prove causation.”

Among the participants, 7,935 individuals were diagnosed with dementia over a period of 25.4 years. Psychological distress was particularly associated with dementia in the Poisson model. Mental health was assessed with a survey question that read, “Have you felt tense, stressed, or under great stress in the past month?”

Other survey questions were also asked to decipher participants’ moods and stress levels.

“Stress, exhaustion and depressive symptoms are closely associated with sleep problems, which have also been suggested to be risk factors for dementia. However, most epidemiological studies lack a large enough sample size[s] or long follow-up,” she said. “Our next step is to study sleep problems and sleep duration and dementia risk using the large Finnish cohorts,” Dr. Sulkava.

Why can poor mental health increase the risk of dementia?

Stress refers to when our mind reacts to immediate or recurring danger. It can be the result of social situations, financial problems, careers, family complications, or more. Everyone goes through stressful times, but for some, it lasts for an extended period of time. Stress can be the main cause of many physical complaints and diseases.

When our brains are stressed, it affects our immune system, which ultimately plays a vital role in initiating dementia. The hormone released when we are stressed, known as cortisol, is directly associated with memory. Because stress is also linked to depression and anxiety, it can ultimately increase the risk of dementia.

However, much research still needs to be done to meet the risks and prevention measures. There can be many factors that cause dementia, and it is difficult to determine that poor mental health plays the most significant role in vulnerability to dementia.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a decline in cognitive function that usually results from biological aging. About 55 million people around the world live with dementia and about 10 million new cases are added each year. Some of the symptoms of dementia include memory loss, cognitive impairment, including poor judgment, and confusion. It can also lead to difficulty speaking and straying from usual hobbies and interests.

Dementia can also cause imbalance and complications with movement. Aside from aging, dementia can result from other causes, including injuries, illnesses and Alzheimer’s disease, according to the World Health Organization.

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