Scientists from Lund University found psychiatry symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease.
The research is published in Biological Psychiatry and was conducted by Professor Oskar Hansson et al.
In addition to memory problems and other cognitive symptoms, most people with Alzheimer’s disease also suffer from mental health issues.
It has long been unclear whether these occur because of tissue changes in the brain, or whether they represent psychological reactions to cognitive symptoms.
Cognitive symptoms combined with elevated levels of certain proteins form the basis for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
At the same time, researchers and physicians alike have, over the past decade, recognized that changes in mood and behavior are often very early signs of the disease.
Yet, these symptoms have not received as much scientific attention as cognitive ones.
In the study, the team examined the complex links between psychological symptoms, Alzheimer’s proteins, and cognitive symptoms.
They tested 356 people over the age of 65 with no cognitive symptoms at the start of the research.
In addition to analyzing the levels of the Alzheimer’s proteins amyloid beta and phosphorylated tau in their cerebrospinal fluid, they also examined participants’ levels of anxiety, apathy, and overall cognitive function. Participants were followed for a total of eight years.
The researchers found a clear link between elevated levels of amyloid beta at the start of the study and the future development of anxiety and apathy.
The team further demonstrated that amyloid beta drives the development of apathy predominately through direct effects and that apathy only to a limited extent evolves secondary to cognitive decline. Anxiety was not linked to cognitive change.
The findings thus argue against the idea that these early changes in emotion and motivation in Alzheimer’s disease are primarily psychological reactions to cognitive decline.
Instead, the results suggest that apathy and anxiety occur due to the pathological accumulation of amyloid-beta.
The team says that Alzheimer’s disease affects large parts of the brain, including the regions that control our emotional life.
The study shows that psychiatric symptoms, just like cognitive symptoms, occur mainly as a direct consequence of the underlying changes to the brain, due to increased levels of amyloid-beta.
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