ICVS researchers show that “40% of patients with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from psychosis and identifies affected areas of the brain”

A team of researchers from ICVS recently published an article in the journal “Neurobiology of Aging” that addresses how the presence of psychosis indicates a more negative prognosis and greater cognitive decline in patients diagnosed with the disease of Alzheimer’s.

Psychosis in Alzheimer’s disease is defined by the presence of delusions and/or hallucinations, which can be, among others, visual or auditory. The emergence of these symptoms has the potential to be highly distressing for both patients and caregivers, resulting in increased rates of institutionalization of these patients. However, the neuropathological mechanisms underlying the onset of psychosis are still not well understood and therapies for these symptoms are lacking.

This recently published work takes advantage of an innovative approach implemented by the ICVS research team, in which the clinical and imaging data of the patients studied benefit from a confirmed diagnosis of postmortem Alzheimer’s disease. In agreement with what has been demonstrated by other clinical studies, these symptoms are present in 40% of patients with neuropathologically confirmed Alzheimer’s disease and are associated with worse cognitive function, greater decline in cognition over time and increased mortality. Furthermore, using the study of MRI scans of these patients, the regions of the brain that are predominantly affected in patients with psychosis in the context of Alzheimer’s disease were identified.

Francisco Almeida, first author of this work and researcher at ICVS, explains that the inspiration to investigate this type of impact on Alzheimer’s disease came during his clinical activity when he observed a patient in the emergency room with psychotic symptoms. Francisco Almeida also states that “although there are drugs that treat these symptoms, there is still no treatment for the potential underlying cause”.
Tiago Gil Oliveira, also an ICVS researcher and coordinator of this project, highlights that “this is crucial work for our understanding of how to deal with this disease. This article provides information that the presence of psychotic symptoms is a prognostic factor for more aggressive forms of Alzheimer’s disease and is important information for family members and clinicians, because the patient may be included in a group in which the disease progresses more quickly”.

Overall, these results suggest that psychosis can occur in a variety of pathological contexts related to Alzheimer’s disease, with differential effects on cognition and brain atrophy. This study demonstrates that it is essential to study the mechanisms underlying this phenotype, in order to develop targeted and effective therapies for these symptoms in the context of Alzheimer’s disease.

The work included the collaboration of researchers from Seattle University and Mount Sinai Hospital, in the United States of America, where it was possible to collect data from patients confirmed with Alzheimer’s disease.