Dementia: Loss of motivation ‘seen in most patients’ before memory deficits warns study

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Dementia is characterised by the deterioration of cognitive functions that results from the death of brain cells. While the condition can be slow to develop, picking it up early is essential for prolonging the quality of life. According to the findings of a new study, changes may occur in the part of the brain that regulates motivation – even before the onset of memory loss.

A new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, led by Yao-Ying May, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, why neuropsychiatric symptoms “appear in most Alzheimer’s disease patients before the onset of memory loss,” according to Science Daily.

The new research sheds valuable light on some of the potential mechanisms linked to the onset of neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with Alzheimer’s.

The team found evidence of activity in the part of the brain that processes motivation, known as the nucleus accumbens.

Doctor May explained: “Even before the onset of cognitive deficits, a significant number of Alzheimer’s patients start showing mood swings, and they have a greater chance to have symptoms of depression.”

READ MORE: Dementia: Experiencing visual hallucinations or muscle stiffness could be early signs

“If we can postpone the pathological progression in one of the affected areas, like the nucleus accumbens, that may delay pathological changes in other regions.”

The lead author, who has a background in drug addiction studies pointed out that many of the symptoms experienced by those who suffer from substance abuse are also seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

In fact, apathy, mood swings and anxiety, often appear in patients before evidence of memory loss arises.

Science Daily explains: “These neuropsychiatric symptoms […] tend to occur earlier than memory loss, but no effective treatments are available.”

In a bid to identify why the symptoms correlate with cognitive deficits, the researchers studied the nucleus accumbens using an Alzheimer’s disease model.

They identified receptors – which are usually absent in that part of the brain – which allowed calcium to enter the brain’s neurons.

This overload of calcium leads to the breakdown of the syntactic structure, triggering an onslaught of changes that can be dangerous to the neurons.

“This synaptic loss in the brain causes motivation deficits,” explains Science Daily.

The team believe that blocking the receptors could prevent, if not delay, the onset of Alzheimer’s disease associated with neuropsychiatric symptoms.

Changes in behaviours are common in the progression of dementia – and evidence is growing and personality could offer strong clues as to whether a person is at risk.

Personality traits that fall under the umbrella of conscientiousness, such as being disciplined and organised, may be associated with a lower risk of the disease.

Researchers believe this could be due to the fact that there tends to be a correlation between these personality traits and other healthy lifestyle habits.

Neuroticism, on the other hand, has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing amyloid plaque and tau tangles – which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.

Although there is no sure-shot way to protect the brain from decline, adopting healthy lifestyle habits, in the form of diet and exercise, can preserve cognitive health.

Cessation of smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation can also prevent the buildup of toxic proteins in the brain.

But some overlooked risk factors for the disease, such as loneliness, may be equally important to avoid.

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