Anxiety can damage brain: Accelerate conversion to Alzheimer's for those with mild cognitive impairment

November 10, 2014, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care
Credit: George Hodan/Public Domain

People with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are at increased risk of converting to Alzheimer's disease within a few years, but a new study warns the risk increases significantly if they suffer from anxiety.

The findings were reported on Oct. 29 online by The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, ahead of print publication, scheduled for May 2015.

Led by researchers at Baycrest Health Sciences' Rotman Research Institute, the study has shown clearly for the first time that anxiety symptoms in individuals diagnosed with MCI increase the risk of a speedier decline in cognitive functions - independent of depression (another risk marker). For MCI patients with mild, moderate or severe anxiety, Alzheimer's risk increased by 33%, 78% and 135% respectively.

The research team also found that MCI patients who had reported anxiety symptoms at any time over the follow-up period had greater rates of atrophy in the medial temporal lobe regions of the brain, which are essential for creating memories and which are implicated in Alzheimer's.

Until now, anxiety as a potentially significant risk marker for Alzheimer's in people diagnosed with MCI has never been isolated for a longitudinal study to gain a clearer picture of just how damaging anxiety symptoms can be on cognition and brain structure over a period of time. There is a growing body of literature that has identified late-life depression as a significant risk marker for Alzheimer's. Anxiety has historically tended to be subsumed under the rubric of depression in psychiatry. Depression is routinely screened for in assessment and follow-up of memory clinic patients; anxiety is not routinely assessed.

"Our findings suggest that clinicians should routinely screen for anxiety in people who have memory problems because anxiety signals that these people are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer's," said Dr. Linda Mah, principal investigator on the study, clinician-scientist with Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute, and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Dr. Mah is also a co-investigator in a multi-site study lead by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and partially funded by federal dollars (Brain Canada), to prevent Alzheimer's in people with late-life depression or MCI who are at high risk for developing the progressive brain disease.

"While there is no published evidence to demonstrate whether drug treatments used in psychiatry for treating anxiety would be helpful in managing anxiety symptoms in people with or in reducing their risk of conversion to Alzheimer's, we think that at the very least behavioural stress management programs could be recommended. In particular, there has been research on the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction in treating anxiety and other psychiatric symptoms in Alzheimer's —and this is showing promise," said Dr. Mah.

The Baycrest study accessed data from the large population-based Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative to analyze anxiety, depression, cognitive and brain structural changes in 376 adults, aged 55 - 91, over a three-year period. Those changes were monitored every six months. All of the adults had a clinical diagnosis of amnestic MCI and a low score on the depression rating scale, indicating that were not part of clinical .

MCI is considered a risk marker for converting to Alzheimer's disease within a few years. It is estimated that half-a-million Canadians aged 65-and-older have MCI, although many go undiagnosed. Not all MCI sufferers will convert to Alzheimer's - some will stabilize and others may even improve in their cognitive powers.

The Baycrest study has yielded important evidence that anxiety is a "predictive factor" of whether an individual with MCI will convert to Alzheimer's or not, said Dr. Mah. Studies have shown that in MCI is associated with abnormal concentrations of plasma amyloid protein levels and T-tau proteins in cerebrospinal fluid, which are biomarkers of Alzheimer's. Depression and chronic stress have also been linked to smaller hippocampal volume and increased risk of dementia.

Explore further: Late-life depression associated with prevalent mild cognitive impairment, increased risk of dementia

Related Stories

Late-life depression associated with prevalent mild cognitive impairment, increased risk of dementia

December 31, 2012
Depression in a group of Medicare recipients ages 65 years and older appears to be associated with prevalent mild cognitive impairment and an increased risk of dementia, according to a report published Online First by Archives ...

How is depression related to dementia?

July 30, 2014
A new study by neuropsychiatric researchers at Rush University Medical Center gives insight into the relationship between depression and dementia. The study is published in the July 30, 2014, online issue of Neurology, the ...

Elderly with depression, mild cognitive impairment more vulnerable to accelerated brain aging

August 7, 2014
People who develop depression and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) after age 65 are more likely to have biological and brain imaging markers that reflect a greater vulnerability for accelerated brain aging, according to a ...

Simple test can help detect Alzheimer's before dementia signs show

September 19, 2014
York University researchers say a simple test that combines thinking and movement can help to detect heightened risk for developing Alzheimer's disease in a person, even before there are any telltale behavioural signs of ...

Diabetes mellitus and mild cognitive impairment: Higher risk in middle age?

September 2, 2014
In a large population-based study of randomly selected participants in Germany, researchers found that mild cognitive impairment (MCI) occurred twice more often in individuals diagnosed with diabetes mellitus type 2. Interestingly, ...

Dementia risk quadrupled in people with mild cognitive impairment

August 6, 2014
In a long-term, large-scale population-based study of individuals aged 55 years or older in the general population researchers found that those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) had a four-fold increased risk ...

Recommended for you

Older adults' abstract reasoning ability predicts depressive symptoms over time

November 14, 2018
Age-related declines in abstract reasoning ability predict increasing depressive symptoms in subsequent years, according to data from a longitudinal study of older adults in Scotland. The research is published in Psychological ...

New research has revealed we are actually better at remembering names than faces

November 14, 2018
With the Christmas party season fast approaching, there will be plenty of opportunity to re-live the familiar, and excruciatingly-awkward, social situation of not being able to remember an acquaintance's name.

The illusion of multitasking boosts performance

November 13, 2018
Our ability to do things well suffers when we try to complete several tasks at once, but a series of experiments suggests that merely believing that we're multitasking may boost our performance by making us more engaged in ...

Brain changes found in self-injuring teen girls

November 13, 2018
The brains of teenage girls who engage in serious forms of self-harm, including cutting, show features similar to those seen in adults with borderline personality disorder, a severe and hard-to-treat mental illness, a new ...

Major traumatic injury increases risk of mental health diagnoses, suicide

November 12, 2018
People who experience major injuries requiring hospital admission, such as car crashes and falls, are at substantially increased risk of being admitted to hospital for mental health disorders, found a study in CMAJ (Canadian ...

Nearly one in ten Americans struggles to control sexual urges

November 9, 2018
(HealthDay)—The #MeToo movement has given many Americans a glimpse into an unfamiliar world that may have left many wondering, "What were they thinking?"

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SoapboxJill
not rated yet Nov 10, 2014
Both cognitive damage and anxiety are symptoms of radiofrequency radiation disruption of normal brain functions. See youtube presentation on blood brain barrier leakage from exposure to electromagnetic fields by Dr. Leif Salford.

To understand the magnitude of degenerative damage the increasing manmade radiofrequency radiation is doing as we speak, esp. to the fetus and the young, see the MD Symposium at C4ST, where scientists/experts reveal what wireless is doing via the mechanisms of damage.

To ignore this science because a tech is fun / convenient means many will pay. Think asbestos, lead paint, tobacco, thalidomide. Are you ready to sacrifice your loved ones to the wireless god?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.