New York: Researchers have discovered that anxiety is associated with an increased rate of progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.
Anxiety has been frequently observed in patients with mild cognitive impairment, although its role in disease progression is not well documented.
“We know that volume loss in certain areas of the brain is a factor that predicts progression to Alzheimer’s disease,” said study senior author Maria Vittoria Spampinato from the University of South Carolina in the US.
“In this study, we wanted to see if anxiety had an effect on brain structure, or if the effect of anxiety was independent from brain structure in favoring the progression of disease,” Spampinato added.
The study group included 339 patients, average age of 72 years, from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative 2 cohort.
Each person had a baseline diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment; 72 progressed to Alzheimer’s disease while 267 remained stable.
The researchers obtained brain MRIs to determine the baseline volumes of the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, two areas important to forming memories.
They also tested for the presence of the ApoE4 allele, the most prevalent genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Anxiety was measured with established clinical surveys.
As expected, patients who progressed to Alzheimer’s disease had significantly lower volumes in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex and greater frequency of the ApoE4 allele.
Most notably though, the researchers found that anxiety was independently associated with cognitive decline.
The link between anxiety symptoms and a faster progression to Alzheimer’s disease presents an opportunity for improving the screening and management of patients with early mild cognitive impairment, the researchers said.
For future research, the team would like to study MRIs obtained after the initial scan to better understand the connection between anxiety and brain structure.
The study was scheduled to be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) from November 29 to December 5.