How to help your brain the mindful way!

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Anxiety is a problem for the mind, but did you know that ongoing anxiety and worry are hard on your brain too? 

That’s what research shows. People who have habits of anxiety and worry tend to lose mental clarity over time. Scientists even link chronic anxiety to an increased risk of dementia!

But, here’s the good news: older people who participate in 8-week mindfulness programs tend to worry less and have clearer minds. Their anxiety decreases. And these improvements tend to continue even 6 months later.

In other words, chronic anxiety might be a problem for your brain’s health, but this can be helped. Habits of anxiety and worry can be changed naturally, without medication.  

Check out the evidence in the scientific papers below. 

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Anxiety as a Risk Factor for Cognitive Decline: A 12-Year Follow-Up Cohort Study 

This study reported results on more than 900 people aged 50+ who were studied by researchers over a 12 year period in the Netherlands. 

Their levels of anxiety and depression were measured at the outset. Then, their mental function and memory were assessed every 3 years. 

Researchers found that women with higher anxiety levels developed increased decline in memory and executive mental function through the years. 

Researchers speculate: “Adequate treatment of anxiety symptoms could have a beneficial influence on the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases”. 

  Bernice Gulpers et al.  Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 27:1, January 2019 

  PubMed summary —  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30409551/

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Does Anxiety Increase the Risk of All-Cause Dementia? An Updated Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies 

Researchers reviewed 8 studies representing more than 29000 participants. They concluded: “Anxiety is significantly associated with an increased risk of all-cause dementia”. 

  Javier Santabárbara et al.; J. Clin. Med. June 2020, 9, 1791; 

  PubMed summary —  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32526871/

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Support for midlife anxiety diagnosis as an independent risk factor for dementia: a systematic review

Researchers reviewed 4 studies with a combined sample size of 29,819. All studies found a positive association between clinically significant anxiety and future dementia.

  Amy Gimson et al.;  BMJ Open 2018;8:e019399

  PubMed summary —  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29712690/

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Anxiety as a Predictor for Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 

A review of 20 research studies showed that anxiety is associated with an increased risk for cognitive decline and dementia.  

  Bernice Gulpers et al.;  Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 24:10, October 2016 

  PubMed summary -  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27591161/

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Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for older adults with worry symptoms and co-occurring cognitive dysfunction

This study involved 34 adults aged 65+ who suffered from significant anxiety-related distress and cognitive [mental] dysfunction. They all participated in programs of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). 

Researchers tested the participants at the beginning and conclusion of the program. They discovered that, by the end of the program, participants had reduced the severity of their worrying and they showed improved memory and mental function. 

Most participants continued to use MBSR techniques even 6 months post-instruction and found them helpful in stressful situations. 

  Eric J. Lenze et al.;  Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2014 October ; 29(10): 991–1000.

  PubMed summary:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24677282/

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Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Older Adults With Stress Disorders and Neurocognitive Difficulties: A Randomized Controlled Trial

This study involved 103 adults aged 65+ who suffered from a disorder of anxiety or depression, and who had problems with neurocognitive [mental] function. 

They were asked to participate in either a program of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or an educational program without mindfulness. 

Researchers measured their memory and mental function. They were also assessed for measures of worry, anxiety, depression and stress (levels of stress hormone in their saliva).  

At the program’s end, when compared with participants in the educational program, participants in the MBSR program showed greater overall improvement, and had improved measures of memory, worry, and depression. 

As well, their worry, depression, and anxiety were improved at 3- and 6-month follow-up. And, MBSR participants showed evidence of lower stress levels (less stress hormone in their saliva).

  Julie Loebach Wetherell et al.;  J Clin Psychiatry. 2017 Jul;78(7):e734-e743.

  PubMed summary:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28686822/

1 comment

Thank you, for your email. It could not have come at a better time. Now more than ever it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety due to Covid. It is really helpful to be reminded  that we can focus on our breath and be present here and now rather than letting our thoughts run wild with fears of "what if"...

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