A worsening of anxiety symptoms could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s in older people, new research finds.
The symptom could help to diagnose the disease 10 years before problems with memory and thinking are obvious.
In this ‘preclinical’ phase, up to 10 years before disease onset, deposits of amyloid and tau proteins build up in the brain.
The study found that the greater these build-ups, the higher the symptoms of anxiety people experienced.
Dr Nancy Donovan, the study’s first author, explained:
“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.
This suggests that anxiety symptoms could be a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease prior to the onset of cognitive impairment.”
The conclusions come from a study of 270 people aged 62-90 years-old, who were followed over five years.
Their anxious-depressive symptoms predicted the build of amyloid plaques in the brain, which are, in turn, linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Donovan said:
“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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (Donovan et al., 2018).