A recent study has linked vital exhaustion later in life to an increased risk of developing dementia.1 Vital exhaustion can be seen as psychological distress and manifest as fatigue, increased irritability and demoralization.
The research was conducted at the Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen have, in collaboration with the National Research Centre for the Working Environment, and the Danish Dementia Research Centre. The research showed that distress in later midlife is associated with a higher risk of dementia later in life. These findings add to our current understanding of psychological factors affecting neurocognition, and should be taken into account in preventative strategies, especially with dementia.
Psychological distress is considered a state of emotional suffering that can be accompanied by somatic symptoms. Vital exhaustion is manifested as experiences of unusual fatigue, increased irritability and demoralization. Vital exhaustion is considered to be a response with being faced with unsolvable problems in one’s life, especially when individuals are incapable of adapting to stressors for prolonged periods of time.
Symptoms of vital exhaustion in late midlife and risk of dementia later in life
Sabrina Islamoska, Ph.D. student from the Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, has shown a dose-response relation between symptoms of vital exhaustion reported in late midlife and the risk of dementia later in life. Islamoska explains: “For each additional symptom of vital exhaustion, we found that the risk of dementia rose by 2%. Participants reporting 5 to 9 symptoms had a 25% higher risk of dementia than those with no symptoms, while those reporting 10 to 17 symptoms had a 40% higher risk of dementia compared with not having symptoms.”
The research study looked at data from nearly 7,000 Danish individuals, who responded to questions about vital exhaustion. The average age of the participants at the time they were surveyed was 60 years. The participants were followed from 1991-2016, during which time national hospital, mortality and prescription registers were analyzed to identify dementia cases.
Symptoms of vital exhaustion
“We were particularly concerned whether the symptoms of vital exhaustion would be an early sign of dementia. Yet, we found an association of the same magnitude even when separating the reporting of vital exhaustion and the dementia diagnoses with up to 20 years,” Islamoska said. The results of this study supports that distress in late midlife may potentially increase the risk of dementia in later life. Despite adjusting for several other well-known risk factors for dementia, such as sex, marital status, lower educational level, lifestyle factors and comorbidities, the risk of dementia associated with vital exhaustion did not change.
Severe and Harmful Consequences of Stress
“Stress can have severe and harmful consequences not just for our brain health, but our health in general. Cardiovascular risk factors are well-known modifiable risk factors for dementia, and in some countries, a stagnation or even a decreasing incidence of dementia has been observed. Our study indicates that we can go further in the prevention of dementia by addressing psychological risk factors for dementia,” Islamoska said.
- S Islamoska, K Ishtiak-Ahmed, ÅM Hansen, MB Grynderup, EL Mortensen, AH Garde, F Gyntelberg, EIB Prescott, E Török, G Waldemar, K Nabe-Nielsen (2019) “Vital Exhaustion and Incidence of Dementia: Results from the Copenhagen City Heart Study” J Alzheimers Dis 67 (1) (doi: 10.3233/JAD-180478).
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.