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Worriers Rejoice!

Guess what, worriers? All your fretting may actually be protecting your brain. That's right: People who spend a lot of time obsessing over their problems appear to be less likely to develop dementia, according to new research.

Take that, you Pollyannas!

Ramit Ravona-Springer of Sheba Medical College in Israel and her colleagues studied 1,715 Israeli male civil servants who participated in a long-term study probing risk factors for heart disease. Those who reported a tendency to "ruminate" about problems at work or at home when they were in their 40s and 50s were significantly less likely to develop dementia by the time they were in their 80s, Ravona-Springer reported yesterday at an Alzheimer's conference in Chicago. "Rumination" was defined as the tendency to repetitively mull over problems.

Of those who reported when they were middle-aged that they always forgot work problems quickly, 24 percent developed dementia, compared with just 19 percent of those who said they only "tended" to let go of job worries easily. And just 15 percent of those who said they "tended to" or "usually" ruminated over their jobs saw their mental acuity fade. The numbers were about the same -- 21 percent, 18 percent and 14 percent -- for worrying about family issues.

When the researchers combined all the numbers, they calculated that the biggest worriers were about 42 percent less likely to develop dementia than the care-free.

Ravona-Springer says she and her colleagues were surprised by the findngs because neurotic people tend to be more prone to dementia. While researchers have no idea why fretting might be protective, she speculated that it could be that worrying is a kind of exercise for the mind that keeps it spry. A growing body of evidence indicates that remaining mentally active can help keep the mind from fading. Or it could be that a certain kind of worrying that results in problem-solving and positive action reduces depression and anxiety, protecting against dementia.

So, if you're not a big worrier, maybe you should start worrying about that. And your job. And your kids. And your finances. And... And...

Are you a worrier? What do you fret about most?

By Rob Stein  |  July 31, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alzheimers/Dementia  
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As is often the case with science analysis, this post fails to consider the that correlation doesn't necessarily imply a cause/effect relationship. An obvious alternate possibility is that there exists some preexisting factor or brain characteristic that itself causes people to ruminate, and also causes them to be less prone to dementia. If so, then it would be entirely wrong to suggest that ruminating causes reduced risk of dementia.

Posted by: Andrew | July 31, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

I agree. But, even if we take them at their word, excessive worrying can still produce heart attacks...

Posted by: Pat | July 31, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Would you rather carry the burden of worrying about everything for 80 long years, or live a happy and care-free life? If obsessively worrying is the cost of not getting dementia, then that's the worse of 2 evils in my opinion.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 31, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I'm not taking this very seriously.

I've had two relatives develop dementia and they were worriers. As they became demented they worried even more.

I don't think worrying is necessarily the same as mental fitness.

Health researchers love to publish. Just because something has been published doesn't mean much until a number of studies show the same thing.

Posted by: RoseG | July 31, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

My grandma was quite dotty all her life and a huge worrier.

She took up residence in an ancient rocking chair in her lving room in her late forties and rocked and fretted about pretty much everything at length, to anyone who would listen.

Her worries included the "cosmic rays" infecting her silverware and the fact that a couple who were living in her rental house turned out not to be married and she feared the neighbors might think she approved.

She somehow found out I was on birth control pills, so she called me at 7 AM on a Sunday morning to tell me her great-niece in Indiana had taken birth control pills, and that was why the great-niece's son was born with a birth defect.

Grandma lived to 93.

Posted by: Sunnie | July 31, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Who comes up with this stuff? Pleeeeeeeease!

Posted by: Who? | July 31, 2008 10:32 AM | Report abuse

It was my parents turn to host a family reunion several years ago, and I remember sitting on the porch eating my cereal one morning while I listened to a distant relative explain that all the hot weather we'd been having is because of all the astronauts they've been shooting into space. That's all the convincing I needed to find somewhere else I had to be for a couple days.

Posted by: JM | July 31, 2008 10:33 AM | Report abuse

People with dementia are, in fact, less likely to ruminate. Rumination requires considerable mental and memory abilities that someone with dementia does not have.

Therefore, those less likely to ruminate (at a younger age) may, in fact, be showing that their brains have begun a long, slow slide into dementia.

Posted by: Ryan | July 31, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Is there a difference between worry and anxiety? I do know that worry and anxiety can cause stomach problems. I'm an internalizer -- appear very calm on the surface but a lot of stress in the stomach. Had acid backed up in my throat for years before Zantac and Protonix came to the rescue. I had an ulcerated esophagus and stomach ulcers from worry and anxiety.

My grandmother was the worrier in the family and lived to be 97, mind clear as a bell. Grandad was very laid-back and a non-worrier -- he lived only to age 94.

Posted by: South of the Beltway | July 31, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Now I'm going to worry that I don't worry enough.

Posted by: DQB | August 1, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

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