Rising Levels of Anxiety Might Be Early Warning Sign of Alzheimer's

Health Writer

Older adults with worsening symptoms of anxiety may be more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It usually develops slowly, becoming progressively worse. In the early stages, memory loss is mild but as it progresses to late-stage, individuals can lose the ability to carry on a conversation or react to their environment according the Alzheimer's Association.

Some early warning signs of the disease are

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time and place
  • Trouble with spatial relationships or understanding visual images
  • Trouble following conversations
  • Misplacing things and difficulty retracing steps
  • Poor judgement
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

It is a form of dementia characterized by problems with memory and thinking. But is also associated with behavioral and psychiatric symptoms. Many people with Alzheimer’s will experience irritability, anxiety or depression in the early stages of the disease according to Alzheimer’s Association.

The link between anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers have long been looking for if not the cause for Alzheimer’s disease at least a way to recognize early warning signs. Early detection is important because early diagnosis and treatment can improve brain function and reduce symptoms according to the [Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin](http://www.alzwisc.org/Importance of an early diagnosis.htm).

Scientists still aren’t sure of exact causes of Alzheimer’s disease but believe that beta-amyloid plays a role. This protein can form plaques or clumps in the brain, which can block nerve cell communication in the brain. These plaques are a hallmark of the disease. Beta-amyloid levels can rise up to 10 years before the onset of symptoms.

The recent study, led by Dr. Nancy Donovan – geriatric psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA., looked at 270 adults between the ages of 62 and 90 years old, all of who had normal cognitive function. The participants went through annual testing for five years to determine beta-amyloid levels as well as being assessed for anxiety and depression.

Those who had an increase in anxiety symptoms during the five-year follow up were also found to have higher levels of beta-amyloid in their brains. This was not apparent in those who showed signs of depression.

The researchers believe that increasing anxiety levels could be an early indicator of the disease and that treating the anxiety might potentially slow or prevent Alzheimer’s. They believe that follow-up studies are needed to know whether those with increasing anxiety go on to develop Alzheimer’s.

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