People with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are at an increased risk for transitioning into Alzheimer’s disease within a few years, but researchers have uncovered that timeline shortens if the individual suffers from anxiety.
Researchers from Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute have shown for the first time that anxiety in people with MCI speeds up the decline of cognitive functions. In patients with MCI and mild, moderate or severe anxiety, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s risk increased by 33%, 78% and 135% respectively. In addition, researchers found those who reported anxiety symptoms during follow up had greater rates of atrophy in the medial temporal lobe regions of the brain, the section of the brain responsible for making memories.
“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. “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 mild cognitive impairment or in reducing their risk of conversion to Alzheimer’s, we think that at the very least behavioural stress management programs could be recommended.”
For the study, researchers analyzed data on anxiety, depression, cognitive and brain structural changes in 376 adults, aged 55 – 91, over a three-year period.