In a new study, researchers found that anxiety is linked to an increased rate of progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.
The research was conducted by a team at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).
Alzheimer’s disease represents a major public health crisis worldwide.
The number of deaths from the disease has more than doubled since 2000, and it is currently the fifth-leading cause of death among individuals over 65 in the U.S.
Many people with Alzheimer’s disease first suffer from mild cognitive impairment, a decline in cognitive abilities like memory and thinking skills that is more rapid than normally associated with aging.
Anxiety has been frequently observed in patients with mild cognitive impairment, although its role in disease progression is not well understood.
The new study included 339 patients, average age of 72 years, from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative 2 cohort.
Each person had a baseline diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment; 72 progressed to Alzheimer’s disease while 267 remained stable.
The researchers obtained brain MRIs to determine the baseline volumes of the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, two areas important to forming memories.
They also tested for the presence of the ApoE4 allele, the most prevalent genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Anxiety was measured with established clinical surveys.
As expected, patients who progressed to Alzheimer’s disease had significantly lower volumes in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex and greater frequency of the ApoE4 allele.
Most notably though, the researchers found that anxiety was independently linked to cognitive decline.
The team says the link between anxiety symptoms and a faster progression to Alzheimer’s disease presents an opportunity for improving the screening and management of patients with early mild cognitive impairment.
The study was based on MRI scans done at one point in time. For future research, the team would like to study MRIs obtained after the initial scan to better understand the connection between anxiety and brain structure.
One author of the study is Maria Vittoria Spampinato, M.D.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
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