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Anxiety may be an early indicator of Alzheimer's disease in older adults

Anxiety may be an early indicator of Alzheimers

A new study suggests anxiety may be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease. The results support the theory that neuropsychiatric symptoms could depict the early signs of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers found that heightening symptoms of anxiety were associated with greater levels of beta-amyloid in the brains of elderly without impaired cognition. Beta-amyloid is a protein linked with Alzheimer's, and is one of the hallmarks of the disease.

Scientists have long investigated risk factors, such as depression, that could result in Alzheimer’s. But this new study took a more distinct approach and examined the symptoms of depression – such as anxiety – itself.

Anxiety disorders, which affect almost 40 million adults each year, are common throughout the United States.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes cognitive decline and eventually renders the inflicted person incapable of carrying out simple tasks such as buttoning a shirt or using the phone. Approximately 5.5 million adults in the United States are affected by the disease, among them 5.4 million are older than 65 years.

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For their study, Dr. Nancy Donovan, from Brigham and Women's Hospital, and colleagues analyzed data of 270 healthy adults, who were part of the Harvard Aging Brain Study, for five years. The adults were aged between 62 and 90.

All the participants underwent positron emission tomography (PET) scan at the study onset and yearly during the 5-year follow-up period.

Researchers used 30-item Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) to assess depression symptoms among these adults. They also evaluated scores for 3 conglomerations of depression symptoms: anxiety, apathy-anhedonia, and dysphoria.

Anxiety may be an early indicator of Alzheimers
Higher levels of beta-amyloid in the brain was linked with increasing symptoms of anxiety in older adults who didn’t have cognitive impairment.


The researchers found that higher levels of beta-amyloid in the brain was linked with increasing symptoms of anxiety in older adults who didn’t have cognitive impairment.

The findings suggest that increasing symptoms of anxious-depression may be an early sign of elevated levels of beta-amyloid, and in turn Alzheimer’s disease.


The team says the results back the hypothesis that appearing neuropsychiatric symptoms constitute an early indication of preclinical Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Donovan and her team concluded that a bigger study focusing on the same subject is required to further confirm these initial findings. However, the anxiety testing could be a practical tool to ascertain if a person is at heightened risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, they added.

The findings were printed in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

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