Scientists find cause of irritability, agitation and anxiety in Alzheimer’s

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Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have made a significant breakthrough in understanding Alzheimer’s disease, as published in JAMA Network Open.

Their research points to brain inflammation, rather than amyloid and tau proteins, as the primary cause of common neuropsychiatric symptoms seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

The Challenge of Neuropsychiatric Symptoms

Neuropsychiatric symptoms, including irritability, agitation, anxiety, and depression, pose a significant challenge in treating Alzheimer’s patients.

As noted by Cristiano Aguzzoli, M.D., the first author of the study, these symptoms are notoriously difficult to manage, lack a clear cause, and significantly burden caregivers.

Earlier in 2023, the same team at the University of Pittsburgh identified excessive brain inflammation as a critical factor in the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Their earlier work suggested the significant role of neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s progression, alongside other factors like amyloid beta and tau.

The latest findings now provide concrete evidence that brain inflammation directly causes the neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

In this new study, the researchers analyzed 109 elderly individuals, most of whom showed no cognitive impairments but were positive for amyloid and tau.

Through brain imaging and clinical assessments, they found that microglial activation (a marker of neuroinflammation) was closely linked with various neuropsychiatric symptoms, including sleep disturbances and agitation.

Notably, caregivers reported that rapid mood swings were strongly associated with higher levels of brain inflammation.

Implications for Treatment and Care

This study emphasizes the potential of targeting neuroinflammation in clinical trials as a preventive therapy for Alzheimer’s. Tracking neuropsychiatric symptoms could serve as a measure of treatment effectiveness.

Drugs that specifically target neuroinflammation might help reduce these symptoms, thereby easing the psychological burden on caregivers and improving patient support.

Given that both neuroinflammation and neuropsychiatric symptoms are common in other types of dementia, such as Parkinson’s dementia, the research team, under senior author Tharick Pascoal, M.D., Ph.D., plans to collaborate with scientists worldwide to extend these findings to other diseases.

This research could pave the way for more effective treatments and improved quality of life for patients with various forms of dementia.

If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies about Vitamin D deficiency linked to Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and Oral cannabis extract may help reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and results showing flavonoid-rich foods could improve survival in Parkinson’s disease.

The research findings can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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