Aim: To document the behavioural and psychological symptoms in patients with a diagnosis of established Alzheimer's disease (AD) for at least 3 years.
Methods: Patients with a ≥3 year history of AD (NINCDS/ADRDA) were recruited from old age psychiatrist and elderly care memory clinics. Information regarding duration of symptoms and non-cognitive symptomatology was obtained during interview with a carer or next-of-kin who had contact with the patient at least 3 times a week and for at least 3 years. MMSE, FAST and NPI including caregiver distress, were used to assess cognition, function and behavioural/psychological disturbance respectively. With each non-cognitive symptom the carer was asked to estimate its onset.
Results: The mean age of patients was 77 years and duration of illness 87 months. Mean MMSE was 8/30 and FAST score 6d. Of the psychological symptoms occurring at any stage, depression (56%), delusions (55%) and anxiety (52%) were most common, with hallucinations, elation and disinhibition occurring less frequently. In general, behavioural changes were more common with apathy occurring in 88% of patients, motor behaviour in 70%, aggression in 66%, irritability and appetite changes in 60% and sleep disturbance in 54%. All symptoms except apathy became less common when the carer was asked if they were still present in the last month. Mean onset of psychological symptoms was 47 months. Mean onset of behavioural symptoms was 48 months. Behavioural disturbance seemed to cause more care-giver distress than psychological change.
Conclusion: The results show behavioural and psychological symptoms in AD are common and distressing for carers. They appear to require a consistent period of neurodegeneration in order to emerge. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.