A woman places her hand on the shoulder of an older man.

Understanding the Link Between Anxiety and Memory Loss in the Elderly

Untangling the connections between anxiety and memory loss is understandably difficult. Because the experience of cognitive decline is so individual and subjective, relying on a patient to self-report symptoms is often insufficient. This makes it challenging for doctors and researchers to understand whether anxiety or memory loss was the catalyst for their patients’ issues.

Scientific studies have shown that anxiety can lead to short-term memory loss. Similarly, cognitive decline and memory loss can lead to anxiety. The root causes of both general or social anxiety and memory loss are tightly interwoven.

While the mind is often a mystery, these connections are very important to track. Early detection of memory loss is vital for treatment and reversal of symptoms.

Symptoms and Causes of Anxiety and Memory Loss

Anxiety is a mental disorder characterized by excessive worry and fear that affects daily life. Symptoms can be both physical and mental. There are many varieties of anxiety disorders, from social anxiety to panic disorder to agoraphobia.

If anxiety is holding you back in life or causing you distress, please talk to your physician for help. While anxiety is often a biological reaction to a stressful situation, anxiety disorders can be very disruptive. Thankfully, there are many ways to relieve anxiety! Your doctor may suggest medication, therapy, or mindfulness to help you cope with your symptoms.

Common Anxiety Symptoms:

  • An irrational amount of nervousness or fear
  • Feelings of panic or doom
  • Increased heart rate and hyperventilation
  • Sweating, shakiness, or weakness
  • Trouble concentrating and/or sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Avoidance of activities that cause anxiety

Some degree of memory loss is an expected part of aging, but it is deemed a concern once these lapses in memory affect daily life. A dementia diagnosis means that a patient is experiencing progressive cognitive decline that impairs their memory, reasoning, judgment, and other thinking skills.

Black and white photo of a sad older woman.

Many forms of memory loss are reversible with the appropriate treatment. If you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s memory loss, please speak to a physician. There is hope for memory loss, regardless of the presenting symptoms.

Common Memory Loss Symptoms:

  • Asking the same question multiple times
  • Forgetting words or names
  • Misplacing common items
  • Getting lost
  • Changes in behavior or mood
  • Taking longer to complete usual tasks

Anxiety and Memory Loss Studies

Which came first, the anxiety or the memory loss? Researchers say both.

Anxiety and stress are closely related. Both release high levels of cortisol into the brain, a stress hormone that has been closely linked to the erosion of brain synapses. This erosion occurs gradually, which causes symptoms of memory loss to develop later in life as we age. It has been compared to waves slowly making rocks smoother and smaller.

Anxiety and memory loss have an even closer relationship than that of depression and memory loss. Anxiety is specifically linked with memory performance. It makes sense that high anxiety and memory loss are connected, because cortisol weathers the synapses of the brain. The two are “interrelated and inseparable”.

Although these connections are hard to untangle, studies have suggested that it is cognitive decline that causes anxiety, not the inverse. Anxiety has been shown to be a strong early predictor of future memory loss. This does not suggest that anxiety is the catalyst; rather, that anxiety develops as a consequence of memory loss.

There is no satisfying answer to the problem of anxiety and memory loss in the elderly. These two conditions have very similar symptoms and entangled roots. We encourage you to speak to a trusted physician for a care plan if you have any concerns about emotional or cognitive health.

Care for Anxiety and Memory Loss

A common problem for older adults struggling with both anxiety and memory loss is insomnia. Difficulty sleeping is often connected to the way that elderly people slow down as they age. Maintaining a comfortable level of mental and physical activity is the best way to aid sleep!

Our community at The Moments values activity, connection, and fun! Residents experience meaningful, enriching moments in the company of others every day. “Meaningful, stimulating, and engaging” activities are the most important way we reduce the symptoms of anxiety and memory loss at The Moments.

Learn more about our Memory Care services.

Published On: January 3, 2024