According to a new study, anxiety could be a harbinger of Alzheimer’s disease. It would be triggered years before cognitive impairment occurs.
After studying neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression for a long time, scientists are still looking for factors that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Refining their analyzes as medicine progresses, they now suggest that symptoms of anxiety could be an important dynamic marker of the early stages of the disease.
“Rather than studying the characteristics of depression as a whole, we looked at specific symptoms such as anxiety,” says geriatric psychiatrist Nancy Donovan of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. “Compared to other markers of depression such as sadness or loss of interest, anxiety symptoms have increased over time in those with higher levels of beta-amyloid in the brain.”
Beta-amyloid protein is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, since it accumulates in the brain forming plaques that disrupt communication between neurons. This disturbance is indeed considered to be one of the main causes of the cognitive impairment of Alzheimer’s disease. But in light of the study’s revelations, it could also be involved in the pre-clinical phase of the disease, potentially up to 10 years before the diagnosis of memory decline.
For this research, the researchers examined data from the Harvard Aging Brain Study. This is a five-year study that observed 270 healthy men and women aged 62 to 90 years without active psychiatric disorders.
During the study, the team discovered that higher levels of beta-amyloid in the brain were associated with an increase in anxiety symptoms. This suggests that these symptoms could constitute — even before the onset of cognitive disorders — a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease.
“If further research corroborates anxiety as an early indicator, it would be important not only to identify individuals early in the illness, but also to treat them and slow down or prevent the pathological process early on,” the researcher notes.
At this point, the researchers acknowledge that we still do not know how this association between anxiety and beta-amyloid occurs. And it should be noted that further such analyzes will be needed to verify whether participants are experiencing anxiety before developing Alzheimer’s disease. If this is the case, then a permanent feeling of anxiety may be a decisive bio-marker in the prognosis of Alzheimer’s disease in its initial stages, which could greatly facilitate its treatment.