Our memory is vital to how we function on a day-to-day basis. Our happiness, ability to learn, and solving problems all rely on memory. When we’re anxious, our memory function, and everything that depends on it, risk diminishing.
It’s vital to understand the effects of anxiety on memory and how to manage it. If we don’t, we may increase our risk of developing memory loss conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
How Does Memory Work?
Memory can be described as your brain’s ability to retain information over time. We typically take in information through any of our senses, including:
- Visual information: what we observe through sight
- Acoustic information: what observe through sound
- Semantic information: what we observe through meaning
- Tactile information: what we observe through physical touch
As the brain processes this information, it encodes it. Encoding requires focus, as the brain takes in and understands the information in the context of what it has already learned. After encoding, the brain stores information. How much and how long encoded information is stored depends on the brain’s health, including age. The final part of memory is retrieval, which refers to the brain’s ability to recall the information it has stored.
The Link Between Anxiety & Memory
Anxiety generally affects a person’s working memory as opposed to their long-term memory. Working memory is a vital part of our everyday lives, helping us:
- Follow conversations
- Encode information
- Plan & organize
- Solve problems
Anxiety can cause nervousness and stress, which can negatively affect memory function. Stress is often caused by a hormone called cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can help you encode information rapidly; however, it severely affects your ability to recall memories.
Stressed or anxiety takes up more of your body’s resources. A higher heart rate, irregular breathing, and brain inflammation are common responses to anxiety. These can severely impact both encoding and retrieving information.
Another leading factor in anxiety and memory loss is lack of focus. Anxiety often causes us to dwell on distractions, focusing on what we think instead of information outside us. To encode information effectively we need to focus.
Can Anxiety Cause Dementia?
Some studies suggest adults with anxiety have a 57% increased risk of someday developing dementia. The stress anxiety puts on the brain and body functions causes them to age faster. Aging faster could lead to dementia symptoms at an earlier stage than expected.
Chronic anxiety also leads to changes in the prefrontal cortex section of the brain. The prefrontal cortex deals with focus, memory, and decision-making. Loss of these functions are primary symptoms related to dementia.
Reducing Stress & Anxiety
Anxiety is a significant risk factor when it comes to dementia; however, it’s one we can control. Taking steps to reduce stress and anxiety can significantly reduce your chances of one-day developing dementia.
Talk to Somebody
Talking through your anxiety can be a powerful tool to reduce its impact on you. You may choose to see a therapist or support professional who is trained to help you work through your anxiety. However, you may also choose to speak to a friend or loved one, which can be just as effective.
One of the main issues with anxiety is when we dwell on a thought for too long. Getting that thought out in the open makes it easier to work through, especially when you have the help of another person.
Exercising is another effective way to reduce anxiety. When you exercise, like going for a walk or a run, your body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins help your brain rest and can reduce your stress levels.
150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly is enough to see the benefits of increased endorphin levels. Not only does exercising help reduce anxiety, but it also keeps your body healthy for longer.
Memory Care at Cresskill Fox Trail
Reducing anxiety and stress has a significant impact on memory function. By doing so, you may even lower your risk of developing memory loss conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. However, some people may already be at risk.
The trained staff at memory care communities can help people with memory loss conditions manage their day-to-day lives. Cooking, cleaning, and offering opportunities for socialization and conversation can significantly improve memory loss symptoms. If you have a loved one who suffers from a memory loss condition, get in touch with us to discover how they can benefit from a memory care community.