Anxiety could be a precursor to Alzheimer's, study reports
Researchers have found a strong link between increasing anxiety levels and Alzheimer's disease.

By Joseph Scalise | 5 hours ago

A team of scientists fromBrigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts found that increasing levels of anxiety could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer's disease, a new study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry reports.

Researchers have spent years looking at the risk factors that are possible prerequisites for developing Alzheimer's, including neuropsychiatric conditions like depression. In the new study the team found that anxiety symptoms could be a dynamic marker of the disease's early stages.

"Rather than just looking at depression as a total score, we looked at specific symptoms such as anxiety," explained lead author Nancy Donovan, ageriatric psychiatrist from Brigham and Women's Hospital, according to Science Alert. "When compared to other symptoms of depression such as sadness or loss of interest, anxiety symptoms increased over time in those with higher amyloid beta levels in the brain."

Amyloid beta is a protein that has been linked to Alzheimer's disease because it builds-up in the brain and forms plaques that disrupt communication between neurons. Researchers believe that such disruption is the main trigger behind the cognitive impairment of Alzheimer's disease. However, there is also a chance it could be implicated in the condition's pre-clinical phase, potentially as far back as 10 years before memory decline gets first diagnosed.

To get a better look at that, researchers examined data from the Harvard Ageing Brain Study --an observational, five-year study of 270 healthy men and women aged between 62 and 90 with no active psychiatric disorders. That revealed higher levels of amyloid beta in the brain are associated with increasing anxiety symptoms. As a result, anxiety symptoms could be an early sign of Alzheimer's.

Though more research is needed on this topic, if anxiety is linked to Alzheimer's it could be used to identify people at risk far before the disease sets in. That could then lead to better treatments that could slow or prevent the disease.

"This is not a definitive result, but it does strengthen the argument that neuropsychiatric changes might be associated with this amyloid," Donovan told the Boston Herald. "As a screening mechanism, it's probably not sensitive enough, but if you can measure multiple risk factors in the same individuals, then it becomes more useful."

Read on for more of crunchsci's advice, and tell us what indispensable lessons you've learned on the road in the comments below — or on Twitter with hashtag @crunchsci