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Neuropsychiatric Predictors of Progression from Amnestic-Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer's Disease: The Role of Depression and Apathy


The aim of the study is to evaluate whether depression or apathy in patients with amnestic-mild cognitive impairment (MCI) increases the risk of progressing to Alzheimer's disease (AD). We investigated 131 consecutive memory-clinic outpatients with newly-diagnosed amnestic-MCI (mean age 70.8, SD = 6.5). Psychiatric disorders were diagnosed at baseline according to the criteria for depression and apathy in AD. Neuropsychiatric symptoms were assessed with the Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI). Follow-up examinations were conducted after six months and annually for four years. Neurologists diagnosed AD at follow-up using NINCDS-ADRDA criteria. Cox proportional hazard models with 95% confidence intervals were used to test the hypothesis that apathy or depression increases the risk of developing AD. At baseline, 36.6% amnestic-MCI patients had a diagnosis of depression and 10.7} had apathy. Patients with both amnestic-MCI and an apathy diagnosis had an almost sevenfold risk of AD progression compared to amnestic-MCI patients without apathy (HR = 6.9; 2.3–20.6), after adjustment for age, gender, education, baseline global cognitive and functional status, and depression. Furthermore, the risk of developing AD increased 30% per point on the NPI apathy item (HR = 1.3; 1.1–1.4). There was no increased risk of developing AD in amnestic-MCI patients with either a diagnosis or symptoms of depression. In conclusion, apathy, but not depression, predicts which patients with amnestic-MCI will progress to AD. Thus, apathy has an important impact on amnestic-MCI and should be considered a mixed cognitive/psychiatric disturbance related to ongoing AD neurodegeneration.