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Does Chronic Anxiety in Seniors Cause Brain Drain?
Mar 02, 2012 10:28AM
My 80 year old grandmother always seems anxious. Does this kind of persistent anxiety cause brain drain? What are the main causes of brain drain?
Brain Health Expert, Dr. Paul Nussbaum
Anxiety is a common experience for all ages including older adults. Research suggests about 5% of older adults suffer clinical anxiety while a higher percentage can experience symptoms of anxiety. Such symptoms can include racing thoughts, worry, tremor, and physical problems such as gastrointestinal distress, headache, and sleep disturbance. Residential setting also is a factor as nearly 25% of those living in nursing homes may have anxiety.
Persistent anxiety can cause fatigue and a type of “brain drain.” The human body has an adaptive stress response known as the “fight or flight” response that has helped us survive over time. This is the brain and body’s defense against life threatening stressors such as dinosaurs or a fast approaching car. Once the stressor is gone and no longer posing a treat, our body returns to a steady and balanced state. Chronic anxiety does not permit the body to return to balance and instead we can remain in the “fight or flight” condition that can literally cause our brains to fatigue.
Chronic anxiety is caused by perception that triggers a series of hormonal reactions to occur in our body. This is when we experience the heavy chest, difficulty with breathing, racing thoughts, sweating, etc. that we consider stress or anxiety. One type of hormone is steroid in nature and over time can cause structural and functional damage to the brain. One example is that a part of the brain know as the Amygdala works in overdrive with perceived stress and is the site of the brain that triggers the “fight or flight” response. An over charged Amygdala could slow the memory system of the brain known as the “Hippocampus.” This is why people who suffer anxiety report memory and attention problems.
It is important to recognize what the stressors our in your life, take some time to slow down and develop adaptive coping strategies such as relaxation procedures, meditation, daily walks, increased sleep, and talking about your concerns. This will help to slow the Amygdala and to permit your brain and body to gain balance.
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Dr. Nussbaum earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Arizona and completed his internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has provided care to older adults for over 25 years and specializes in normal aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and related disorders. His brain health lifestyle ® has been published in consumer friendly texts, presented to diverse audiences across the nation, and is frequently cited in the media. For more information, go to
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