SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Apathy and agitation among otherwise healthy senior citizens may be an early sign of a condition leading to dementia, according to a study from Mayo Clinic published this month in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Mayo researchers conducted a five-year prospective study to estimate the effect of initial neuropsychiatric symptoms to develop mild cognitive impairment. MCI is the intermediate stage between normal aging and dementia. People with MCI can develop dementia at a rate of 10 to 15 percent per year compared with 1 to 2 percent in the general population.
Researchers looked at data from the Mayo Clinic Study on Aging conducted in the early 2000s to compare behavioral symptoms to physiology from more than 10,000 people age 70 and above. Researchers studied psychiatric symptoms — agitation, apathy, anxiety, irritability and depression — at the baseline of the study and then again after five years to see if there were signs of MCI. It was determined that these baseline psychiatric symptoms are better predictors of increasing the risk of incident mild cognitive impairment than even physiological biomarkers, says study author Yonas Geda, M.D., a professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
Journalists: Soundbites of Dr. Geda discussing the research are available in the downloads.
“We found that elderly persons who have neuropsychiatric symptoms are at three times greater risk of developing MCI,” says Dr. Geda.
The good news is that the risks of MCI can be lowered.
“This study actually gives hope because these are modifiable risk factors,” Dr. Geda says. “Apathy is loss of interest, so maybe small gradual activities, maybe more social networking, more activities — some simple things to motivate behavior — can really help.”
Dr. Geda suggests that consistent structured activities that keep both and mind and body active are among best ways to avoid MCI.
“The key is to keep being active — keep at it,” he says.
MEDIA CONTACT: Jim McVeigh, Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, 480-301-4222, firstname.lastname@example.org