Scientists find cause of mental symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease

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Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have made a significant discovery regarding Alzheimer’s disease.

They found that common neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as irritability, agitation, anxiety, and depression, often seen in Alzheimer’s patients, can be attributed to brain inflammation rather than the well-known amyloid and tau proteins.

This finding strengthens the emerging understanding of neuroinflammation’s role in Alzheimer’s progression and opens new avenues for therapies targeting the neurological symptoms associated with the disease.

The Role of Neuroinflammation

Neuropsychiatric symptoms pose considerable challenges in Alzheimer’s care, as they are challenging to manage, lack clear causes, and require substantial support for both patients and their families.

Previous research from the same institution had revealed that excessive brain inflammation is crucial in the initiation of Alzheimer’s disease and can predict whether cognitively unimpaired elderly individuals are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms.

This earlier work hinted at the significance of neuroinflammation in the disease process, including its interaction with amyloid beta and tau proteins.

New Findings on Neuropsychiatric Symptoms

In their latest study, the researchers worked with a group of 109 elderly individuals, most of whom did not exhibit cognitive impairments. However, a majority of them tested positive for amyloid and tau proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

By measuring levels of neuroinflammation, amyloid beta, and tau through brain imaging and correlating these findings with clinical assessments of neuropsychiatric symptoms, the scientists established a strong connection between microglial activation (a marker of neuroinflammation) and various neuropsychiatric symptoms, including disturbances in sleep patterns and agitation.

Although levels of amyloid and tau alone were indicative of neuropsychiatric symptoms, neuroinflammation appeared to amplify their effect.

Neuroinflammation and Caregiver Distress

Neuroinflammation was most notably linked to instances where caregivers or family members reported abrupt mood swings in their loved ones with Alzheimer’s, a common symptom of the disease.

Individuals whose caregivers experienced higher levels of distress while caring for them also exhibited greater levels of brain inflammation.

This finding underscores the psychological burden experienced by caregivers and highlights the potential benefits of therapies targeting neuroinflammation to alleviate neuropsychiatric symptoms and improve caregiver support.

Implications and Future Research

This study adds to the growing body of evidence regarding the role of brain inflammation in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly when neuropsychiatric symptoms emerge.

It suggests that clinical trials focusing on neuroinflammation as a preventive therapy for Alzheimer’s could use neuropsychiatric symptoms as a measure of treatment effectiveness.

Furthermore, drugs designed to specifically target neuroinflammation may hold promise in reducing the severity of neuropsychiatric symptoms, ultimately enhancing the support and care provided to Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.

The research team is also exploring the applicability of these findings to other types of dementia, such as Parkinson’s dementia, and collaborating with scientists worldwide to expand their understanding of the role of neuroinflammation in various neurodegenerative diseases.

This research could lead to more effective treatments and improved quality of life for patients and their families facing these challenging conditions.

If you care about dementia, please read studies about People who take high blood pressure medications have lower dementia risk and findings of Early indicators of dementia: 5 behaviour changes to look for after age 50.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that oral cannabis extract may help reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms, and Vitamin E may help prevent Parkinson’s disease.

The research findings can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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