Correlation Between Mental Health and Dementia in Middle Age Population

Dementia, a cognitive function decline that brings many symptoms from physical to psychological effects, is the seventh cause of death in the world. A new study revealed that psychological distress could lead to a higher risk of dementia.

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

With follow-up visits, all participant results were associated to Finnish Health Register data for dementia and death rates for each of them. The team analyzed the data from May 2019 to April 2022 before producing the research. Psychological distress could refer to many different symptoms including stress, depression, anxiety, and more.

In a new study by JAMA Network Open, it was found that substandard mental health and dementia vulnerability were linked. Conducted by Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, the University of Helsinki, and the University of Eastern Finland, the study says elderly population should especially be careful of psychological distress, as it can lead to an increased risk of dementia.

The study gathered 67,688 participants, aged 25 to 64 years old. Psychological distress, such as stress, depression, fatigue, led to around 17 percent to 24 percent heightened risk of dementia in an etiological Poisson model, with an 8 percent to 12 percent growth in the Fine-Gray model. The numbers suggest that poor mental health could lead to a higher risk of dementia.

"Our study suggests that symptoms of psychological distress, e.g., exhaustion, depressive mood, and experience of stress, are risk factors for dementia, and not only prodromal symptoms of underlying dementia disorder. [However], [w]e cannot prove causality."

Among the participants, 7,935 individuals were diagnosed with dementia over a duration of 25.4 years. Psychological distress was notably connected with dementia in the Poisson model. Mental health was assessed with a survey question that asked 'Have you felt yourself tense, stressed or under a lot of strain during the past month?'

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

"Stress, exhaustion, and depressive symptoms are tightly linked to sleep problems, which are suggested to be risk factors for dementia too. However, most epidemiological studies lack large enough sample[s] or long follow-up,” she said. “Our next step is to study sleep problems and sleep length and dementia risk using the large Finnish cohorts," continued Dr. Sulkava.

Why can poor mental health raise the risk of dementia?

Stress refers to when our mind responds to immediate or reoccurring danger. It could result from social situations, financial difficulties, careers, family complications, or more. Everyone goes through stressful times, but for some, it continues for a longer period of time. Stress can be the core reason of many physical symptoms and illnesses.

When our brain receives stress, it affects our immune system, which eventually plays a crucial part in initiating dementia. The hormone released when we’re stressed, known as cortisol, is directly associated with memory. Since stress is also connected with depression and anxiety, it can eventually raise the risk of dementia.

However, there is still much research that needs to be done to fulfill the risks and preventions. There can be many factors that cause dementia, and it is difficult to pinpoint poor mental health being the main role of dementia vulnerability.

What is dementia?

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

Dementia can also bring imbalance and complications with movement. Aside from aging, dementia could result from other causes including injuries, diseases, and Alzheimer's, per the World Health Organization.

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