Midlife Crisis Depression May Increase Risk of Dementia…How to Navigate the Transition : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Wednesday Jun 13 | BY |
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A midlife crisis involves a lot more than hot cars and younger partners—and can actually threaten your health.

You’ve likely heard of the term “mid-life crisis.” Maybe you’ve even known someone close to you that went through one. Maybe you, yourself, are starting to experience it.

The standard stereotype idea of a mid-life crisis may involve buying a new red sports car and dating someone half your age, but in today’s world, there’s actually a lot more to it than that. In fact, if you or someone you care about may be entering the dark, confusing pathways of a mid-life jungle, you’d be wise to take note—a new study finds that if you’re not careful, you could be setting yourself up for more trouble down the road.

Study Finds Depression in Mid-Life Increases Odds of Dementia
According to new research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, those who experience symptoms of depression during midlife are more likely to develop vascular dementia, the second most common type of dementia, later in life. This type of dementia occurs when impaired blood flow to parts of the brain deprive cells of nutrients and oxygen, such as that which occurs during a mini-stroke.

Researchers studied data from more than 13,000 people in a large northern California health plan from their 40s and 50s into their 80s. Participants were evaluated for depression in midlife and again in late life. Compared to people who were never depressed, those who experienced midlife depression were about 20 percent more likely to go on to develop dementia. Researchers theorized that depression in midlife may trigger vascular changes that lead to vascular dementia, and raised the question: If depression were treated aggressively in midlife, could dementia be avoided?

What is a Midlife Crisis?
There’s some disagreement as to when we enter midlife. Depending on who you talk to, it could be anywhere from 35 to 53 years of age. But maybe the bigger question is: Is this a real condition? According to a survey by University of Zurich investigators, 92 percent of nearly 400 respondents were convinced it is, with nearly three-quarters of those having known someone in the middle of one.

The term “midlife crisis” was first coined by scholar and psychoanalyst Elliot Jacques in 1965. According to him, the crisis was such a big deal that many great artists and thinkers didn’t survive it. At the heart of the matter is the very real idea that half of one’s life is over, and the remaining time on Earth is limited—often less than what’s already been lived. In other words, we come face-to-face with our own mortality.

Later, in the 1970s, scholars and physicians further researched and developed the idea of the midlife crisis, and found that it was often a time of disillusionment, when we tend to compare the dreams of our youth to our current reality. This is when symptoms like anxiety, depression, and manic behavior can arise, as we struggle to recapture some of that lost joy and excitement that we once felt about life…or, we succumb to the feelings of loss and helplessness as we realize how much we haven’t accomplished that we wanted to.

Whatever experience one may have during these years, one thing is clear: how we choose to deal with the transition—both the physical and psychological symptoms—can significantly impact the rest of our life experience.

Warning Signs of a Midlife Crisis
How can you tell if you or someone you love may be experiencing a midlife crisis? Check for the following potential signs:

  • Feelings of depression: sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, lack of energy, inability to focus, unusual sleep patterns, unusual appetite or weight changes, obsession with mortality, increase in alcohol consumption, sharp increase in self criticism, physical aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment
  • A need for adventure and change: increased desire for fun, neglecting things once believed to be important, engaging in risky activities, making radical changes without thinking them through, change for the sake of change, impulsive behavior
  • Feeling trapped: feeling that current obligations are a burden, that there’s no end in sight, that everything is a series of unending demands
  • Sudden obsession with appearance: new interest in cosmetic procedures, excessive exercise, overspending on a new (perhaps inappropriate) wardrobe, obsessive attention to signs of aging
  • Excessive reminiscing: over-fantasizing about the glory days of high school, intensely seeking out old flames, intensive focus on how things used to be
  • Anger and inappropriate blame: blaming the spouse or partner for everything that went wrong, blaming everyone at work for why one has not reached one’s goals, having a “short fuse,” seeking opportunities for conflict, revealing supposed unspoken feelings—such as long-felt unhappiness in the marriage

How to Navigate Midlife While Safeguarding Your Health
Navigating your own experience (or that of a loved one) during midlife can be a complicated task. The important thing is to keep your wellbeing in mind. Notice the signs of depression, particularly (noted above), as these can be dangerous for your health. If you sense you may be depressed, don’t be afraid to see a counselor for help. You can also try some of the natural remedies below to help your body support your efforts to feel better.

Bottom line: realize that you may be facing some pretty big questions about your life, and don’t expect a simple solution. Most likely, it will take time, effort, and perhaps some outside help, to determine the best path to take from here on out. Managed well, a midlife crisis can be an important step toward bringing your outward life more in line with where your spirit yearns to be.

Tips to Support Your Psychological/Spiritual Self

  • Take some time. Take a retreat if you can, so you can get some space to examine what’s going on. Honor your feelings, and ask yourself questions, like, “What do I feel is missing in my life? What’s locked inside me that I want to set free? Where do I want to be thirty years from now, and what do I need to do to get there? What do I have now in my life that’s really important to me?” Consider regular meditation on these questions, and keep a journal of your answers. Realize that you may be feeling restless because your inner self wants to evolve. Honoring that process is the best way to feel better.
  • Take action. Doing nothing means that you’re letting outside forces determine your future. Avoid rash decisions, but on the other hand, it’s usually a mistake to think your feelings will just “go away” without any action on your part. Seek out new information and knowledge, talk to good friends or a counselor, take a class—do something to help yourself better navigate the change.
  • Get back to nature. There’s something about getting into the mountains by a lake, or out on the beach by the ocean, that can reconnect you to your inner self, and help you think more clearly. Take a camping trip, go for a walk around the river—get away from the traffic, the computers, and the noise.
  • Realize you may need to make some personal changes. Women, in particular, are often used to putting other’s needs above their own. Realize that you may need to learn to be more assertive, or to get better at saying “no.” Men are typically used to acting out, and may need to face the uncomfortable idea of sitting down and talking about their feelings. Be willing to be uncomfortable for a bit while making constructive changes.
  • Be smart, but be brave. People who choose to make radical, impulsive changes during midlife can end up without family, friends, and career. But on the other hand, playing it too safe because you’re afraid to make a change can also be a mistake. If, after a time of reflection and talking it out, you really feel you want to change careers, don’t let fear keep you from going back to school, for example. Developing new skills, exploring new possibilities, and expanding your sense of self may be just what you need.

Tips to Support Your Physical Health

  • Think hormones. For some men and women, hormonal changes may be causing some of the changes you’re feeling. Check with your doctor about possible supplements or hormonal replacements that may help normalize your system.
  • Support your body’s fight against depression. Consider St. John’s wort (studies have been mixed, but it’s worth a try), omega-3s, 5-HTP, L-theanine, and S-adenosyl methionine (SAM or SAM-e). In addition, eat a healthy diet, exercise, and consider massage or acupuncture.
  • Check your medications. If you’ve been on any medications long-term, check with your doctor. Some can exacerbate feelings of depression.
  • Establish new healthy habits. Realize that your favorite exercise years ago may no longer work for your middle aged body, or that maybe your system doesn’t respond as well as it once did to Friday pizza and weekend steaks. Consider changes in your diet or daily exercise that may help you feel better, such as going to a more plant-based diet, or adopting new exercises like yoga or tai chi.

Have you navigated a midlife crisis? Do you have any tips?

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Photo courtesy BackSideOfWater via Flickr.com.

Amanda Gardner, “Depression in Middle Age Linked to Dementia,” CNN Health, May 8, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/07/health/depression-middle-age-dementia/index.html.

Jesse Bering, “Half Dead: Men and the ‘Midlife Crisis,'” Scientific American, October 3, 2011, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2011/10/03/half-dead-men-and-the-mid-life-crisis/.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.

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