In a recent study entitled “Anxiety symptoms in amnestic mild cognitive impairment are associated with medial temporal atrophy and predict conversion to Alzheimer’s disease” the authors report on how people with mild cognitive impairment have higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, especially if they suffer from anxiety. The study was published in the online issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
The study, led by researchers at the Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute, shows that individuals exhibiting mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have an increased risk to develop Alzheimer’s, with mild anxiety being associated with a 33% increased risk for Alzheimer’s, while severe anxiety is associated with a 135% increase. The authors found that anxiety symptoms in MCI patients were associated with an increased decline in cognitive functions and higher rates of atrophy in the brain region responsible for memory formation, as well as the medial temporal lobe regions within the brain.
Thus, while late-life depression has been increasingly reported as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, this study shows for the first time a similar association for anxiety. Therefore, the authors suggest that anxiety can accelerate brains’ decline, culminating in Alzheimer’s disease, and as a result, anxiety should be routinely screened along with depression to assess memory functions within these patients.
For the study, the authors studied 376 patients with amnesiac mild cognitive impairment from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) for 36 months and performed a linear regression analysis to determine the impact of anxiety in these patients and the development of brain atrophy.
Dr. Linda Mah, the study’s lead author, a clinician-scientist with Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, commented, “Our findings suggest that clinicians should routinely screen for anxiety in people who have memory problems because anxiety signals that these people are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s.” These new insights may be able to help physicians detect early risk factors for Alzheimer’s, which could have an impact in lowering the projections for diagnoses over the next few decades.