Latimer: Study finds clues to future cognitive impairment

Study offers new insight about dementia and how to prevent it.

As our population gets older and rates of age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s climb, we are working hard to learn more about what causes dementia and how we can prevent it.

We still have a lot to learn about this frightening condition, but some recent research may be giving new insight.

A study of more than 1,500 individuals aged 70 and older has discovered a link between non-psychotic psychiatric symptoms and later mild cognitive impairment.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) refers to impairment in one or more domains including executive function, memory, language or visuospatial while still maintaining normal daily functioning. Usually, concerns about MCI are self-reported or brought up by a loved one or physician.

MCI is important because it is considered an intermediate stage between normal aging and the development of dementia. Those who experience this mild impairment as they age have a 10-15 percent chance per year of developing dementia compared to only a 1-2 percent chance per year among the general population.

It seems to be an important link in our understanding of how and why more serious dementias develop.

This study discovered that non-psychotic psychiatric symptoms such as depression, anxiety, agitation, apathy and irritability increased risk for later mild cognitive impairment. Further analysis on a smaller group of subjects also showed euphoria, disinhibition and nighttime behaviours were linked with non-memory-related cognitive impairment whereas depression was linked with memory-related impairment.

More research will be necessary to determine the mechanism for this link between earlier mental health symptoms and later impairment.

It will also be interesting to learn whether treatment of psychiatric conditions does anything to slow or prevent future cognitive impairment.

Increased understanding of risk factors is helpful in equipping us for better early intervention and prevention strategies

Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.



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