Lewy Bodies, Vascular Risk Factors, and Subcortical Arteriosclerotic Leukoencephalopathy, but not Alzheimer Pathology, are Associated with Development of Psychosis in Alzheimer's Disease

J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;50(1):283-95. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150606.


Background: The neuropathological correlates of psychosis in Alzheimer's disease (AD) is unclear, with some studies reporting a correlation between psychosis and increased AD pathology while others have found no association.

Objective: To determine the demographic, clinical, and neuropathological features associated with psychotic symptoms in clinically attributed and neuropathologically proven AD.

Method: We separately reviewed two overlapping groups of clinically diagnosed (cAD) AD patients with neuropathology data and neuropathologically definite (npAD) cases (regardless of clinical diagnosis) from the NACC database, and explored the relationships between psychosis and clinical variables, neuropathologic correlates, and vascular risk factors. Delusions and hallucinations, defined according to the NPI-Q, were analyzed separately.

Results: 1,073 subjects in the database fulfilled our criteria (890 cAD and 728 npAD patients). 34% of cAD and 37% of npAD had psychotic symptoms during their illness. Hallucinations were associated with greater cognitive and functional impairments on the MMSE and CDR, while delusional patients showed less impairment on CDR, consistent across cAD and npAD groups. Burden of AD pathology appears to relate to presence of psychotic symptoms in the clinical AD group, but this result is not confirmed in the neuropathologically confirmed group suggesting the findings in the clinical group were due to misdiagnosis of AD. Lewy body pathology, subcortical arteriosclerotic leukoencephalopathy, and vascular risk factors, including a history of hypertension and diabetes, were associated with the development of psychosis.

Method: Vascular and Lewy body pathologies and vascular risk factors are important modifiers of the risk of psychosis in AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; arteriosclerotic leukoencephalopathy; delusion; hallucination; neuropathology; psychosis; vascular pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Databases, Factual / statistics & numerical data
  • Dementia, Vascular / etiology*
  • Female
  • Hemorrhage
  • Humans
  • Lewy Bodies / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychotic Disorders / etiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires