Escalating Anxiety Symptoms Could be Early Indicator of Alzheimer’s Disease 

Recent Alzheimer’s studies suggest that there may be an association between elevated levels of amyloid beta levels and exacerbated anxiety symptoms.  The findings of this new study seem to support a standing hypothesis that neuropsychiatric symptoms might represent an early manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease; at least, in older adults.

Alzheimer’s disease, of course, is a neurodegenerative condition characterized by a decline of cognitive function. It can also result in the inability to carry out normal, daily activities (as a result of neurodegeneration).  Previous studies have suggested that mood disorders like depression and other neuropshchiatric symptoms might be predictors of Alzheimer’s Disease progression while in its “preclinical” phase.  During this time, the brain begins to deposit and accumulate both fibrillar amyloid pathological tau.  Unfortunately, this phase can begin more than ten years before a patient can show any symptom of even mild cognitive impairment.  That in mind, then, finding a potential link between the preclinical phase of Alzheimer’s Disease and some mood disorders could help to improve treatments.

Lead study author Nancy Donovan, MD, explains: “Rather than just looking at depression as a total score, we looked at specific symptoms such as anxiety. When compared to other symptoms of depression such as sadness or loss of interest, anxiety symptoms increased over time in those with higher amyloid beta levels in the brain.”

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital geriatric psychiatrist goes on to say, “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.”

Anxiety, of course, is common in older people.  Elevated symptoms, then, could prove to be quite a useful risk marker among older adults, and especially among those with other genetic or biological or clinical indicators of high Alzheimer’s Disease risk.

The findings of this study have been published this week in The American Journal of Psychiatry.  Donovan also notes that additional longitudinal follow-up studies would be necessary in order to more accurately determine the significance of the potential link between symptoms of depression and the stages of dementia associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease.