Anxiety Potentially an Early Indicator of Alzheimer’s Disease

A recent study found an association between anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease. The research supports the hypothesis that neuropsychiatric symptoms may be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.

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Anxiety Alzheimer's Disease

What is Alzheimer’s Disease and How is it Associated with Anxiety?

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that decreases cognitive function. The disease also negatively affects a person’s daily life in a number of ways, and could lead to dementia.

Prior studies have associated mental health disorders like depression to be a predictor of Alzheimer’s. Mainly in the preclinical phase when the brain deposits of fibrillar amyloid and tau build up in the affected person’s brain.

They found that this preclinical phase could actually happen years before onset of noticeable cognitive issues. The new study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry (2018), discusses findings that suggest higher levels of amyloid beta may increase anxiety in the study’s participants.

“The study objective was to examine associations of brain amyloid beta and longitudinal measures of depression and depressive symptom clusters in a cognitively normal sample of older adults,” researchers of the study noted.

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Anxiety Alzheimer's Disease

Anxiety Offers Rare Glimpse into Early Alzheimer’s Indicator

The anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease association was examined from a different approach. Rather than looking at depression as a total score, the researchers identified specific symptoms, like anxiety.

When compared to other depression symptoms, anxiety progressed over time when higher amyloid beta was present in the brain.

Dr. Nancy Donovan, primary author and psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital explained, “This suggests that anxiety symptoms could be a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease prior to the onset of cognitive impairment. If further research substantiates anxiety as an early indicator, it would be important for not only identifying people early on with the disease, but also, treating it and potentially slowing or preventing the disease process early on.”

This may highlight anxiety as a marker for other health issues in older adults, like an early indicator for Alzheimer’s disease.

The data was compiled from the Harvard Aging Brain Study, research that examines the neurobiological changes in early Alzheimer’s patients. The participants were 270 normal men and women aged 62 to 90. They all had no psychiatric or cognitive issues.

Anxiety Alzheimer's Disease

Is Anxiety and Alzheimer’s Disease Linked?

The researchers calculated the GDS scores in all participants and three depression symptoms: apathy-anhedonia, dysphoria, and anxiety. The GDS scores were examined over a five-year period.

The research was interesting. Higher brain amyloid beta was in fact associated with increased anxiety and thus could be an early indicator for Alzheimer’s disease. Further research is needed, but it is a potentially rare glimpse into a disease that over five million Americans live with daily.

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