Background: Patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and concomitant atrophy of the hippocampus may be extra vulnerable to the consequences of psychological distress, leading to greater decline in memory function. The present study investigated whether symptoms of anxiety and depression predict decline of memory function in elderly people diagnosed with early stage AD.
Methods: A sample of 44 elderly people diagnosed with early stage AD was tested on their memory function, anxiety and depression and confounding variables with one year follow-up. Episodic memory was measured with a modified Dutch version of the Auditory Verbal Learning Test (AVLT) which measures learning and recall abilities. Linear regression analyses were used to investigate the association between anxiety and depressive symptoms and decline of memory function.
Results: Anxiety symptoms predicted a smaller decline in learning on the AVLT. Anxiety symptoms did not predict decline on the recall of the AVLT. No association was found between depressive symptoms and decline in either learning or recall of the AVLT.
Conclusions: In early AD, symptoms of anxiety and depression generally seem to be mild, and do not accelerate decline of memory function over time. On the contrary, anxiety symptoms were found to predict a smaller decline in memory function.