These Unexpected Symptoms May Signal Alzheimer's

Dementia in Alzheimer disease might come after symptoms like depression, aggression and delusions

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Conventional wisdom holds that Alzheimer's starts with small memory slips — but new evidence suggests that other mental health symptoms may signal this disease.

A new study found that adults who would later develop dementia were more likely to show signs of other mental health issues like depression and anxiety earlier than other adults.

“While earlier studies have shown that an estimated 90 percent of people with Alzheimer’s experience behavioral or psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and agitation, this study suggests that these changes begin before people even have diagnosable dementia,” said study author Catherine M. Roe, PhD, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, in a press release.

Michelle Papka, PhD, director of the Memory Disorders Program at the Atlantic Neuroscience Institute in Summit, NJ, told dailyRx News that patients should pay attention to new symptoms they have.

"Patients and family members should be educated to recognize and report such changes and not assume they are a natural occurrence of 'aging,'" Dr. Papka said. "Changes in noncognitive behaviors warrant further evaluation."

She continued, "These symptoms should not be ignored."

The brain disease Alzheimer's is a form of dementia, or problems with cognition. Cognition includes abilities like memory, thinking and understanding. Alzheimer's disease is progressive, meaning it gets worse as time goes on.

Other mental symptoms can occur with this disease, Dr. Roe and team found. These may include issues like depression or aggression.

Patients experiencing these symptoms should speak with a doctor. Patients can take steps that may help prevent mental decline. The Alzheimer's Association suggests exercising, a healthy diet, staying socially active and staying mentally active as strategies to maintain a healthy brain.

Dr. Roe and team wanted to explore whether these noncognitive symptoms might show up before Alzheimer's does. To do so, they used the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center Uniform Data Set for September 2005 to March 2013. This involved nearly 2,500 adults aged 50 or older who had no cognitive issues at the study's start. These adults answered surveys about their mental health.

During the follow-up, which lasted up to seven years, around half of the adults developed dementia.

Dr. Roe and team found that, regardless of cognitive symptoms, symptoms of depression tended to increase with age.

Patients who developed dementia later were more likely to display other mental health symptoms earlier, Dr. Roe and colleagues found. The patients who developed dementia were twice as likely to show symptoms of depression sooner than patients who did not develop dementia.

These patients were also three times as likely to show signs of aggression, 10 times as likely to develop hallucinations and 12 times as likely to develop delusions before those without dementia.

This study was published online Jan. 15 in the journal Neurology.

A number of sources funded this research, such as the National Institute on Aging and the Longer Life Foundation. Some study authors had ties to pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly.

Review Date: 
January 13, 2015
Last Updated:
January 15, 2015