Anxiety and Dementia

Hook Law News | Jul 13, 2018 | Letha Sgritta McDowell

A recent study has found that anxiety during middle age may be linked to higher rates of dementia late in life.  The study followed almost 30,000 for more than a decade and there was a clear link between anxiety mid-life and dementia later in life.  The study wasn’t a controlled study with the intent to calculate the magnitude of increased risk.  Instead the study simply indicated an increased risk without eliminating other factors.

When experiencing anxiety or stress, the body produces the hormone cortisol and prolonged heightened cortisol levels have been linked to weight gain, lower immune function, lower bone density, higher rates of mental illness and depression, higher rates of heart disease and more.  It is possible that dementia is another possible side effect of prolonged increased cortisol levels.  On the other hand, anxiety is often a symptom of dementia, making the corollary between the two difficult to connect.

Therapy exists to assist individuals with the reduction of anxiety and cortisol levels.  For individuals who live with high stress and anxiety, pursuing therapy to reduce these levels is critical due to the host of other health problems which may result.  The possibility of reducing the chances of developing dementia later in life is simply an added bonus to reducing stress.

While there is no way of eliminating the chances of developing dementia, there are some things one can do to aid in prevention.  Reducing stress is one and maintaining heart health through diet and exercise is another.  The Alzheimer’s Association also recommends education and regularly getting the right amount of sleep as another.

How do you recognize dementia?  The Alzheimer’s Association has provided 10 signs of dementia which, if you notice any one of them in yourself or a loved one, warrants a visit to a physician for further testing.  They are:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life – This includes forgetting recently learned information, important dates or events, or repeatedly asking for the same information. This does not include occasionally forgetting a name or an appointment, then remembering later.
  • Challenges in planning or problem solving – This includes difficulty with following a familiar recipe or keeping track of bills but would not encompass the occasional math error or learning a new task.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home or work.
  • Confusion with time or place – While it is common for many to occasionally forget what day it is but then remember later, it is not common to forget and not remember at all.
  • Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships. This includes trouble judging distances or determining color contrasts.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing – Examples of this are trouble in following a conversation or having trouble finding the right word for something and calling it by the incorrect name.
  • Misplacing things – While everyone misplaces their keys on occasion, a person with dementia may place their keys in an inappropriate location (such as the freezer) then later be unable to find them and not have the ability to retrace their steps.
  • Decreased or poor judgement – This is difficult to ascertain, but is unfortunate and an often missed early sign. Decreased judgment is often what leads individuals to take action such as gifting sums of money when they otherwise would not do so.
  • Withdrawal from social activities – This is often as result of having difficulty in following a certain activity or being able to engage in conversation.
  • Changes in mood or personality – Different from simply becoming irritable when a routine is changed, a person with dementia may become easily upset, afraid, depressed or fearful, even when in a familiar setting.

Studies now show a link between anxiety and developing dementia.  While the strength and nature of this connection remains unknown, it is certainly cause to take steps to reduce stress and anxiety now.  To the extent any preventative measure can be taken, it is critical to implement.  For those who have prolonged exposure to stress and anxiety; be sure to know the early warning signs of dementia and pursue treatment in order to improve overall quality of life.

Ask Kit Kat – Virginia Honeybees

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, is it true the Virginia honeybee population was reduced by half after this past winter?

Kit Kat: Yes, unfortunately, it was closer to 60% that was lost. This was the highest reduction of managed colonies of honeybees since the Commonwealth of Virginia started tracking them in 2000. Normally, only 30% are lost over the winter period. It could be devastating for the state’s agriculture, because honeybees are critical to pollinating crops, and wild bees perform the same function in wild areas such as wetlands and forests. Honeybees are responsible for about 90% of the pollination of apples, cranberries, broccoli, and blueberries. They are also essential for pollinating almonds, to name just a few of the crops which they pollinate. According to Keith Tignor, apiarist for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Virginia was 4th in the nation for loss of bees, with only Arizona, Tennessee, and Louisiana losing more. The phenomenon is known as “colony collapse.” Scientists have not yet figured out why this is happening. They have some ideas, however.

According to Margaret Couvillon, assistant professor of pollinator biology and ecology at Virginia Tech, the four stressors for bees are known as “the four P’s—pesticides, pathogens, pests, and poor nutrition.” Contributing factors this year were an unusually long winter and a brief warm-up in February which tricked them into thinking spring had come. Also, the bees battled parasitic Varroa mites and infections from nosema fungi. Furthermore, they have had to deal with a loss of habitat, as more and more woodlands are converted to farming nationwide. Finally, it is becoming harder to make a living as a full-time beekeeper. Therefore, fewer people undertake the task, thus reducing the number of bees, because there are fewer active agents revitalizing their numbers each year after a cold winter.

What can you do to help the situation? 1) Become a beekeeper, or expand the number of hives you have, if you already keep bees, 2) plant flowers; even if you live in an apartment, you can plant in pots, 3) monitor your bees if you are a beekeeper for mites, especially in July and August, and 4) seek advice from state extension agents before applying any pesticides. (Katherine Hafner, “Over half of Virginia’s honeybees died last winter. Here’s what that means.” The Virginian-Pilot, pg. 1 and 7, July 9, 2018)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at [email protected] or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Letha Sgritta McDowell

Attorney, Shareholder, CELA
757-399-7506 | 252-722-2890
[email protected]

Letha Sgritta McDowell is a Shareholder of Hook Law practicing in the areas of estate planning, elder law, special needs planning, estate and trust administration, asset protection planning, long-term care planning, personal injury settlement consulting, guardianships & conservatorships, and tax law. Ms. McDowell’s clients range from high-net-worth individuals with over $75 million in net worth to families with limited assets.

Ms. McDowell is a past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and was named as a Fellow of the prestigious American College of Trusts and Estates Council (“ACTEC”) in 2020. She is certified as an elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation (“CELA”) and Board Certified as a specialist in Elder Law by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Furthermore, McDowell is accredited to prepare and prosecute claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ms. McDowell is currently the chair of NAELA’s strategic planning committee, a member of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Chapter of NAELA, and a member of the Board of Directors for the Purdue Center for Cancer Research. She is the former Chair of the North Carolina State Bar’s Elder Law Specialization Committee and is the former Editor-in-Chief of “Gray Matters”, the newsletter for the Elder Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association. She is a consultant for InterActive Legal and has worked on several law and technology initiatives including IBM’s Watson project. Along with her experience practicing as an attorney, she has dedicated much of her time writing for national publications including, but not limited to: Wolters Kluwer,, the NAELA Journal, Trust & Estates Magazine and many more.

Practice Areas

  • Elder Law
  • Estate & Trust Administration
  • Estate Planning
  • Asset Protection Planning
  • Long-Term Care Planning
  • Special Needs Planning
Make a Plan
Let's make a plan.
We help individuals and their families navigate the legal maze and implement plans to secure their futures. By working together, we're able to offer comprehensive planning, life care services and legal representation, giving you peace of mind for what ever life brings.