Memory Slower? You’re Processing a Lifetime of Information!

Older adults have always joked that it takes them longer to remember things because they must sort through their years of knowledge to find the right answer. They might say something like, “My brain is too full!”

Is this true? Research recently appearing in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science [] described the work of linguistics researchers who are using computers to demonstrate that, indeed, the “full brain” of seniors is the most common cause of slower memory and slower performance on certain memory-related tests.

The study team, headed by Dr. Michael Ramscar of the University of Tübingen in Germany, put computers to the test by loading them with information to simulate the increased knowledge of human seniors. Would computers experience a “senior moment”? According to the researchers, when the computer sorted through a small amount of information, its performance on cognitive tests resembled that of younger humans. But, say the researchers, “When the same computer was exposed to the experiences we might encounter over a lifetime, its performance looked like that of an older adult. Often it was slower, not because processing capacity had declined. Rather, increased ‘experience’ had caused the computer’s database to grow, giving it more data to process—which takes time.”

The researchers say that standard memory tests may not yield an accurate picture of an older adult’s memory health. They explain that older brains not only have more memories to sift through, but also more chances to forget things.

The team also examined a classic memory lapse many seniors worry about: forgetting names. They remind us that the more people we meet in life or read about, the more names we need to sort through and remember. And seniors of today, take heart: The researchers also reported that it is harder now than it was two generations ago to connect faces to names, due to a much greater diversity in names today. They say, “The number of names anyone learns over their lifetime has increased dramatically. This work shows how this makes locating a name in memory far harder than it used to be. Even for computers.”

Of course, not all memory loss is benign. It’s important to know the signs that might indicate a problem. According to the National Institute on Aging, these are some symptoms that indicate that a person should consult their healthcare provider:

  • Asking the same question over and over
  • Becoming lost in places that are familiar
  • Not being able to follow directions
  • Becoming more confused about time, people and places
  • Neglecting personal safety, hygiene and nutrition

These symptoms might indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other serious memory loss. Or they could result from a fortunately treatable cause such as medication side effects, infections, nutritional deficiencies, depression or alcohol abuse. No matter what the cause, early diagnosis is important.

Meanwhile, seniors who are experiencing normal age-related changes of memory should take these words of Dr. Ramscar to heart: “The brains of older people do not get weak. On the contrary, they simply know more.” Given that age-related stereotypes have been shown to trigger depression and inactivity, this understanding is great ammunition for combating the clichés that slow us down!

Learn More

The National Institute on Aging offers the free booklet, “Understanding Memory Loss: What To Do When You Have Trouble Remembering,” [link to:] that explains the difference between mild forgetfulness and more serious memory problems.

Source: AgeWise reporting on study from Tubingen University.

How Do Seniors Choose Among Their Medicare Plan Options?

Seniors appreciate having a wide range of Medicare private plan choices available to them but often feel unqualified to choose among them, a new Kaiser Family Foundation report concludes. Based on discussions with seniors in four cities around the country, the report captures seniors’ experiences and frustrations in making decisions about their Medicare plans.

Seniors cite many factors as influencing their initial choice of a Part D or Medicare Advantage plan, including premiums, benefits, out-of-pocket costs, brand recognition (i.e., AARP) and adequate coverage for their health care needs, including coverage for their specific medications and, for Medicare Advantage plans, access to desired physicians and hospitals.

However, many seniors say the initial process of comparing and choosing plans was not easy due to the large volume of information they receive and their inability to compare plan features to determine which option is best for them. Few used the government’s online comparison tool, and those that did cite several shortcomings. Many relied on advice from sources they trust, including insurance agents, plan representatives, friends, family members, medical professionals and pharmacists.

After they enroll in a plan, many seniors are reluctant to revisit their initial decision and switch plans, even when premiums go up, because of frustration and confusion during their initial selection process and because of fears about disrupting their care or increasing out-of-pocket costs. They lack confidence in their ability to choose a plan that would be appreciatively better for them.

“How are Seniors Choosing and Changing Health Insurance Plans?” was based on focus-group discussions with seniors in Baltimore, Md.; Seattle, Wash.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Tampa, Fla.; and is authored by researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation and PerryUndem Research and Communication.

The report’s findings were discussed as part of a policy briefing in Washington, D.C.. Watch a video of the archived webcast of the briefing here. [add link to:]. Click here to read the full report [link to:].

Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.


Helping Someone Move to a Long-Term Care Facility

Moving to a long term care facility is often difficult for an older adult. But there are many things family members and friends can do to reduce the physical and emotional stresses involved. They can help plan the move, participate on the day of the move, and provide love and support after the move.

Moving to a nursing home is an important long term care option for many older or disabled adults. Sometimes, a person moves to a nursing facility because the care they need just isn’t available or practical at home. Or, they may have special rehabilitative care needs after leaving the hospital, but before they return home.

Whatever the circumstances, there are a few simple steps you and other family members and friends can take to help the person you care for make a smooth, hassle-free transition to new surroundings.

Before the Move

Moving to a long-term care facility usually means making do with less space than the person is used to. Long-term care residents have the right to keep and use items of personal property, to the extent space permits. But space is almost always in short supply. So choices may have to be made about what to take along…and what to leave behind. Friends and family can help by:

  • Learning from the facility exactly what space limitations apply
  • Helping prepare for the move, including arranging for storage or other disposition of items left behind
  • Discussing the facility’s policies for safeguarding resident property; for example, you may be advised to mark all clothing and personal belongings with the person’s name, and to make (or helping the resident or facility make) a list of the resident’s things
  • Anticipating and responding to special concerns, such as care for a pet.

On the Day of the Move

Moving to a new home is always stressful. You can help minimize feelings of disorientation and dislocation by:

  • Helping your loved one unpack…and making sure that pictures, personal mementos and other similar items are placed where they will create a feeling of home
  • Sharing a meal at the new facility
  • Getting to know staff members  and learning about all the various programs, services, and activities the facility has to offer
  • Spending some quiet time after everything is unpacked to make sure your family member or friend is as comfortable, relaxed, and reassured as possible.

After the Move    

When people move to a care facility, they often fear that the move will come between them and people and activities they love. They may worry about being alone and out of touch. It may take some time and effort to get over these concerns, to be reassured by the support of loved ones, to make new friends, and to settle into new and interesting patterns of living. You can help by:

  • Staying in touch right from the beginning…communicating frequently and positively
  • Working closely with your loved one and staff to make sure any difficulties are ironed out
  • Establishing regular visiting times so your loved one can plan ahead for them
  • Making a few surprise visits as well
  • Visiting individually or as a family group for special occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries
  • Attending care conferences and family support groups
  • Working with your loved one and staff to make the new living situation a happy, successful one.

15 Great Ways to Help Your Loved One Feel Connected

  1. Send flowers or balloons on a special day.
  2. Write frequent cards, notes or e-mail.
  3. Give a prepaid, senior-friendly cell phone or calling card.
  4. Set up Skype chats with your loved one
  5. Visit as often as you can.
  6. Send pictures or videos of family events, grandchildren, or friends.
  7. Bring a card or small gift when you visit.
  8. Get to know the resident’s new friends and care providers, and greet them during your visits.
  9. Check to see what types of food items would be appropriate as a gift, and include them occasionally when you visit.
  10. Remember to acknowledge and thank members of staff whenever appropriate.
  11. Offer to take along other long-time friends, so they can visit also.
  12. Go for a stroll outside if weather permits.
  13. Take the resident on a day trip, or come along on a resident outing.
  14. Inform friends, family and your loved one’s faith community of their new contact information.
  15. Become a volunteer in your loved one’s new home.

Source: AgeWise

The AMA Says Obesity is a Disease

The American Medical Association has announced that the organization has designated obesity as a disease requiring treatment and prevention efforts.
The American Heart Association believes the additional focus is needed on this important risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The organization works with individuals, industry, healthcare professionals and national, state and local governments to recognize the severity of the issue and the need for more coordinated and comprehensive solutions.

Obesity is defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher. Over one-third (33.7%) of U.S. adults are obese (nearly 75 million adults) and about 12 million (16.9%) of U.S. children ages 2 to 19 are obese and nearly one in three (31.7%) U.S. children (23,500,000) ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese.

“Obesity is mainly caused by taking in more calories than are used up in physical activity and daily life, but other factors may also contribute to obesity including genetics, limited access to healthy foods or unsafe environment for physical activity,” says Donna Arnett, Ph.D., president of the American Heart Association. “When people eat too many calories, or too much saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, their blood cholesterol levels often rise. But even taking off a few pounds can provide you with cardiovascular benefits, so every step in the right direction is a step toward healthier living.”

If you have too much fat — especially around your waist — you’re at higher risk for health problems. Obesity…

  • raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is linked with lower heart disease and stroke risk, so reducing it tends to raise the risk.
  • raises blood pressure levels.
  • can induce diabetes. In some people, diabetes makes these other risk factors much worse. The danger of heart attack is especially high for these people.

When your weight is in a healthy range your body more effectively circulates blood, your fluid levels are more easily managed, and you are less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and sleep apnea. The American Heart Association can help you get there. To determine your risk for heart disease and stroke, visit and learn how you can lower your risk.

Source: American Heart Association

Study Finds Many Oldest Baby Boomers Are Retiring

The first set of baby boomers, those born in 1946, continue to be myth-busters, according to a new study, Healthy, Retiring Rapidly and Collecting Social Security: The MetLife Report on the Oldest Boomers. The data, from the MetLife Mature Market Institute, says the earliest boomers aren’t necessarily “working ’till they drop,” as was predicted.

More than half (52 percent) of the 1946 boomers are now fully retired. When asked why they left the workforce, 38 percent simply said, “I’m ready to retire.” Others cited health reasons (17 percent) or job loss/inability to find employment (10 percent). Twenty-one percent remain employed full-time and 14 percent are working part-time; of those, most plan to retire fully by age 71, up from 69 in 2011. The figures from the MetLife Mature Market Institute represent a big jump since 2007 and 2008 when just 19 percent of oldest boomers were retired, and a significant leap from the 45 percent who had retired in 2011.

The Institute has studied the oldest boomer cohort on numerous occasions, most recently in 2012 with Transitioning into Retirement: The MetLife Study of Baby Boomers at 65 and The Early Boomers: How America’s Baby Boomers Will Transform Aging, Work & Retirement. The current study follows the group as they’ve moved from age 62 to 67, learning about their finances, housing status, family lives and their views on generational issues. For instance, though the majority of retirees say they have less income than when they were working, lower income does not always equal a lower standard of living, as only 20 percent felt theirs had declined.

“As oldest boomers dive into retirement, even though some have been forced to do so earlier than expected, they seem to be ‘Feelin’ Groovy,’ as this group would have said during their formative years,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. “They are poised to remain active and engaged. As their nests empty they seem to be largely feeling healthy and positive. On the negative side, a good half of this group may not have achieved their retirement savings goals and are not confident about paying for the next phase of their lives.”

More facts about the oldest boomers:

  • 86 percent of these boomers are collecting Social Security benefits; 43 percent began collecting earlier than they had planned.
  • 14 percent of oldest boomers are working part-time or seasonally; 4 percent are self-employed.
  • Long-term care rose to the top of the list of retirement concerns; 31 percent report concern about providing for themselves or their spouses.
  • Despite the fact that they are worried about long-term care, just under a quarter has private long-term care insurance.
  • 82 percent want to age in place and do not plan any future moves.
  • Eight percent are “upside down” on their mortgage, owing more than the value of their home.
  • The average number of grandchildren is 4.8.
  • 79 percent of oldest boomers have no living parents, but more than one in 10 are providing regular care for a parent or older relative; for many, the level of care has increased.
  • Oldest boomers continue to believe they will see themselves as “old” at the age of 78.5.
  • 16 percent of the oldest boomers see themselves as being sharpest mentally now, in their 60s, but the largest group (30 percent) believes they were sharpest in their 40s.
  • More than 40 percent of the oldest boomers are optimistic about the future. Nearly a quarter of those are optimistic about their health, and two in 10 feel good about their personal finances.
  • More than half of the oldest boomers feel their generation is leaving a positive legacy for future generations. Values and morals and good work ethics were the top two items cited.

Source: MetLife. Read the entire Healthy, Retiring Rapidly and Collecting Social Security: The MetLife Report on the Oldest Boomers  study on the website of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month

Aug. 24-30 spotlights vaccines for adults; what immunizations do seniors need?

During August’s National Immunization Awareness Month, experts remind Americans that vaccines save lives and protect health. Some people think that vaccines are only for children. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that vaccines also are important and encouraged for adults. To promote adult vaccination, the CDC also has named August 24-30 as “Not Just for Kids” week, promoting the fact that adults, too, should be immunized.

Seniors in particular are at higher risk of side effects and even death from a number of the preventable diseases targeted by vaccines. Unvaccinated seniors might pass dangerous illnesses on to children and others. Yet only a small percentage of seniors have received all the vaccinations that are recommended for them.

This isn’t just a national issue: In a new report, “Life-Course Immunization: A Driver of Healthy Aging,” the Global Coalition on Aging called for a greater awareness worldwide of the role of vaccines as a preventive measure as the number of people older than 65 soars worldwide.

Here are the vaccines recommended by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for most older adults. Of course, you should consult your healthcare provider before receiving any vaccines, and about which form of each vaccine is best for you.

Influenza (Flu). Seniors are at high risk of complications and even death from the flu. Get your annual flu shot as soon as the vaccine is available in your area. Ask your doctor which flu shot you should receive.

Pneumonia (Pneumococcal Disease). This disease can lead to serious infections of the lungs, blood and brain. One dose is recommended for all adults age 65 and older.

Tetanus/Diphtheria/Pertussis. Tetanus (sometimes called “lockjaw”) and diphtheria are severe, often fatal diseases. Pertussis (“whooping cough”) causes spasms of severe coughing. The vaccines for these three diseases are given in different combinations; consult your healthcare provider about the type that is recommended for you.

Shingles (herpes zoster). Shingles causes a painful skin rash, and can lead to long-term pain and disability. All adults 60 years old or older should get the shingles vaccine.

The CDC also recommends additional vaccines for people with certain health problems, immunization histories and lifestyles. These vaccines include the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) shot, vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B, and for Meningococcal disease. Your doctor can tell you if you should receive any of these immunizations.

Vaccines are safe. The CDC says, “Vaccines are thoroughly tested before licensing and are carefully monitored even after they are licensed to ensure that they are very safe.” Side effects and allergies are rare and usually temporary. Talk to your healthcare provider about the vaccines that are right for you based on your age, health, lifestyle, occupation and other factors.

Learn More ( is the government’s consumer portal for immunization information.

Find materials for the 2014 National Immunization Awareness Month here [link to:], including the “Not Just for Kids” information (

Read the Global Coalition on Aging report here [add link to: ].

The American Geriatrics Association offers a factsheet about vaccines for seniors ( ) which includes recommended vaccinations, instructions on when to get them, and any cautions associated with specific vaccines.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about the vaccinations that are right for you.

Copyright © AgeWise, 2014

Don’t Ignore Cataract Symptoms

Don’t Ignore Cataract Symptoms

August is Cataract Awareness Month, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology is urging seniors and caregivers to be aware of the dangers of ignoring the symptoms of cataracts, a leading cause of visual impairment that will affect more than half of all Americans by the time they are 80 years old.  Delaying diagnosis and treatment of age-related cataracts can increase a senior’s risk of permanent blindness, and can lead to both physical and psychological damage.

What are cataracts?

Cataracts are caused by the clouding of the lens of the eye and are most common among older adults, as the condition develops as the eye ages. Many seniors cope with cataracts, accepting vision loss as an inevitable part of the aging process rather than seeking medical attention. Due to the incapacitation caused by blurred vision, leaving cataracts undiagnosed and untreated can lead to physical danger, such as injuries from falls or running into unseen objects, as well as psychological harm like depression and social isolation. In addition, the longer advanced forms of cataracts are left untreated, the more difficult it can be to successfully repair the damage caused to the eye.

Risk factors and symptoms of cataracts

Adults age 65 and older should have regular eye exams to monitor for the development of cataracts, in addition to other common eye conditions and diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma. People with diabetes, a family history of cataracts, and those who smoke tobacco are at an increased risk of developing cataracts. Common symptoms such as dull, blurry vision, colors appearing less vibrant, and halos around lights, may begin to be noticeable as cataracts develop. This cataract simulator demonstrates how vision is affected by cataracts.

Treatment of cataracts

Cataracts are nearly always treatable with surgery, but it may not be necessary until performing daily activities becomes difficult. If daily life isn’t disturbed, a change in a person’s eyeglass prescription may be all that is necessary until visual impairment becomes more severe. If completing everyday tasks is challenging, cataract surgery should be discussed with an ophthalmologist — a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions.

“Seniors who find themselves giving up normal tasks like reading, exercising or driving due to cataract symptoms should know that they do no not need to suffer in silence,” said Rebecca Taylor, M.D., spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Cataract surgery can help these individuals regain their sight and their independence. It is one of the most common and safest procedures performed in medicine, so seniors should not resist seeking help. Getting treatment can vastly improve your quality of life.”

For people without regular access to eye care or for whom cost is a concern, EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers eye exams and care at no out-of-pocket cost to qualifying seniors age 65 and older through its corps of nearly 7,000 volunteer ophthalmologists across the U.S. To learn more about EyeCare America or to find out if you or a loved one qualifies for the program, visit EyeCare America is co-sponsored by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Inc., with additional support from Alcon and Genentech.

Source: The American Academy of Ophthalmology (, the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. The Academy’s EyeSmart program ( offers trusted, medically accurate information about eye injuries, diseases and conditions, including cataracts (

Health Law Requires Medicare to Cover Dementia Evaluation

Health Law Requires Medicare to Cover Dementia Evaluation

Provided by Kaiser Health News (

For the millions of seniors who worry that losing their keys may mean they’re losing their minds, the health law now requires Medicare to cover a screening for cognitive impairment during an annual wellness visit.
But in a recent review of the scientific research, an influential group said there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend dementia screening for asymptomatic people over age 65.

What’s a worried senior to think?

Dementia screening tests are typically short questionnaires that assess such things as memory, attention and language and/or visuospatial skills. One of the most common, the mini-mental state examination, consists of 30 questions (such as “What month is this?” and “What country are we in?”) and may be completed in about 10 minutes.

In its review, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts, evaluated the evidence of the benefits, harms and clinical utility of various screening instruments for cognitive impairment. It concluded that the evidence for routine population-based screening was insufficient. While declining to  recommend the practice for everyone older than 65, the reviewers noted that some screening tools can be useful in identifying dementia.

“Clinicians need to use their judgment,” says Albert Siu, professor and chair of geriatrics and palliative care at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who was co-vice chair of the task force on dementia screening. “The evidence isn’t clear that there is a net benefit to screening for individuals that are asymptomatic.”
The risk of dementia increases with age: its prevalence is 5 percent in people aged 71 to 79, rising to 37 percent of those older than 90. Mild cognitive impairment has many definitions, but the term generally refers to people whose impairment isn’t severe enough to hamper their ability to manage their daily lives. By some estimates up to 42 percent of people older than 65 have it. Mild cognitive impairment is a warning sign, but it may not progress to Alzheimer’s disease, says Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for up to 80 percent of cases. Other types include vascular dementia, many cases of Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

Someone without symptoms who does poorly on a screening test may have other medical conditions, such as depression or sleep apnea, that can cause memory or other problems, says Hartley. That’s why it’s important that people take the tests in a medical setting with a trained professional who can evaluate them and take a good medical history from patients and their family members, he says.

One-time screenings at shopping malls or health fairs should be avoided, experts agree. Taking a quick test without any accompanying medical evaluation may raise more questions than it answers.

But seniors may want to consider having an evaluation for cognitive impairment as part of their annual wellness visit with their health provider. It is covered with no out-of-pocket charge.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that seniors undergo cognitive impairment screening and evaluation to establish a baseline for comparison, and then have regular follow-up assessments in subsequent years.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Some drugs, such as Aricept, may improve memory or other symptoms temporarily, but no medical treatment halts or reverses the disease.

That is a key argument against large-scale routine screening of people older than 65, says Ariel Green, a geriatrician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. “We don’t have studies that show that such a screening program improves the care of people with dementia,” she says.

Still, if an individual has concerns about dementia because of a family history of Alzheimer’s or memory lapses, for example, a medical professional should evaluate the person and a screening test may be appropriate.

And although research hasn’t yet shown that large-scale screening is effective at improving dementia care overall, screening may help individuals and their families identify a cognitive impairment or dementia early on. The drugs that are available are most effective in the early stages of the disease. In addition, Green says, “it’s helpful for people to hear a diagnosis of dementia, if it’s an accurate diagnosis, because it can help people anticipate their future needs and plan for that.”

Source: Kaiser Health News (, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. This article was produced by Kaiser Health News with support from The SCAN Foundation (


Protect Seniors from Heat-Related Illness

During the warmer months, working or playing in the sun, spending time in an unventilated home, or sitting in a closed vehicle can result in uncomfortable and even dangerous temperatures for anyone. But did you know that even though seniors may be the least likely to complain about the effects of summer weather, they are at highest risk for the dangers of extreme heat?

As we grow older, decreased blood circulation and a less efficient perspiration mechanism make it harder for our bodies to regulate temperature. Common health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney or lung problems or an unhealthy body weight are also a factor. Seniors are also more likely to take certain prescription medications that hinder the body’s ability to cool itself.

During periods of high heat, check up on senior friends and relatives, especially if they do not have air conditioning. Here are some tips to share to help them remain cool and comfortable:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty. (People on a fluid-restricted diet should consult their healthcare provider about staying hydrated during periods of heat.)
  • Wear short-sleeved, loose-fitting garments made of natural fibers.
  • Exercise and work outside only during the cooler hours of the day.
  • If your home is not air conditioned, open windows to let in cool air during early morning and evening hours. Close drapes and blinds to block the sun, and use fans to circulate cooler air.
  • Take a break during the warmest hours at a shopping mall, library, senior center, movie theater or other air conditioned place.

Taking these precautions will help seniors and caregivers stay cool and enjoy the summer season.

Be alert for signs of heat-related illness

Seniors and families should be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, which include dizziness, weakness, nausea and heavy perspiration. If ignored, these symptoms can progress to a dangerous condition called heatstroke. The symptoms of heatstroke are:

  • Body temperature over 104°
  • Confusion, staggering
  • Dry, flushed skin with no sweating
  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Headache
  • Unconsciousness.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 right away. While waiting for help to arrive, move the person to a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing, and apply cool, wet cloth or towels to the skin.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Seek immediate help for heat-related illness. Talk to your doctor about your fluid intake.

Copyright © AgeWise, 2014

Anxiety Linked to Higher Long-Term Risk of Stroke

Stroke is the No. 4 killer and a leading cause of disability in the United States. The greater your anxiety level, the higher your risk of having a stroke, according to research published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

In earlier studies, researchers found that depression was linked to greater risk of stroke. In contrast to anxiety, depression is a persistent feeling of hopelessness, dejection, and lack of energy, among other symptoms. This newer study is the first in which researchers linked anxiety and stroke independent of other factors such as depression. Anxiety disorders are one of the most prevalent mental health problems. Symptoms include feeling unusually worried, stressed, nervous or tense.

Over a 22 year period, researchers studied a nationally representative group of 6,019 people 25-74 years old. Participants underwent an interview and took blood tests, had medical examinations and completed psychological questionnaires to gauge anxiety and depression levels.

Researchers tracked strokes through hospital or nursing home reports and death certificates. After accounting for other factors, they found that even modest increases in anxiety were associated with greater stroke risk. People in the highest third of anxiety symptoms had a 33 percent higher stroke risk than those with the lowest levels.

“Everyone has some anxiety now and then. But when it’s elevated and/or chronic, it may have an effect on your vasculature years down the road,” said Maya Lambiase, Ph.D., study author and cardiovascular behavioral medicine researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in Pittsburgh, Penn.

Lambiase reports that people with high anxiety levels are more likely to smoke and be physically inactive, possibly explaining part of the anxiety-stroke link. Higher stress hormone levels, heart rate or blood pressure could also be factors, she said.

Source: American Heart Association ( The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health funded the study.