Anxiety associated with greater cognitive decline in those at risk for Alzheimer’s

Older persons at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease because of accumulated amyloid-beta plaques experience more rapid cognitive decline if they also have elevated anxiety symptoms, according to new research published online Jan. 28 in JAMA Psychiatry.

The presence of amyloid-β plaques in the brain has long been associated with Alzheimer’s disease; however, not everyone with these plaques experiences cognitive decline.

Yale neuropsychologist Dr. Robert Pietrzak and his colleagues from the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers, and Lifestyle research group assessed levels of amyloid-β and several other risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, and then tracked cognitive functioning in a group of more than 300 healthy older adults over a 54-month period.

Not surprisingly, they found those with higher levels of amyloid-β plaques experienced a decline in cognitive functioning over time.  However, this decline was substantially more rapid among older adults with both higher levels of amyloid-β and elevated anxiety symptoms.

“These findings suggest that assessment and monitoring of anxiety symptoms, even mild-to-moderate levels, can inform risk models of early Alzheimer’s disease, and that treatment of anxiety symptoms may help mitigate risk for cognitive decline in older persons with high levels of amyloid-β,” Pietrzak said.

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