Critical Positions in Ageing Research

European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 275-284

Dementia worry: a psychological examination of an unexplored phenomenon

  • Eva-Marie KesslerAffiliated withNetwork Aging Research, Heidelberg UniversityDepartment of Psychological Ageing Research, Institute of Psychology, Heidelberg University Email author 
  • , Catherine E. BowenAffiliated withJacobs Center on Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development, Jacobs University
  • , Marion BaerAffiliated withInstitute of Gerontology, Heidelberg University
  • , Lutz FroelichAffiliated withDepartment of Geriatric Psychiatry, Central Institute of Mental Health
  • , Hans-Werner WahlAffiliated withDepartment of Psychological Ageing Research, Institute of Psychology, Heidelberg University

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Abstract

According to recent surveys, dementia worry (DW) is a widespread phenomenon in mid-life and old age, at least in Western populations. DW has been shown to be only loosely related to sociodemographic factors. Unfortunately, the concept of DW has found only very little conceptual and empirical attention in previous research. In this conceptual review, we take (mostly) a psychological approach to DW. First, we define DW as an emotional response to the perceived threat of developing dementia. We then conceptualise DW as a hybrid, combining elements of ageing anxiety and health anxiety. On the population level, we argue that the high prevalence of DW may be reflective of the increasing awareness of dementia in times of increasing ‘‘dementia encounters’, widespread misperceptions of risks and consequences of dementia and a perceived lack of coping resources. Finally, we propose that DW may affect a range of important behaviours, such as how people interpret evidence of their own or others’ age-related cognitive changes, how they interact with people with dementia, how they anticipate and plan for their future, how they engage in screening and prevention behaviours and how they exploit healthcare resources. We conclude with suggestions for future research, including a further in-depth investigation of psychological and micro-/macrosocial factors associated with DW.

Keywords

Dementia Alzheimer’s disease Worries Hypochondriasis Health anxiety Ageing anxiety