Scientists at University College London have discovered that a quick, five-minute test could give clues to those most likely to develop dementia in the future.
A recent study saw researchers carry out ultrasounds on over 3,200 people aged between 40 and 50. The tests examined the blood vessels in their necks, measuring how strong the blood flow from that area was to the brain.
Researchers measured the patients for 15 years, to gain an insight into their long-term health.
They measured the ‘pulses’ generated from each beat of their hearts – and found that those with the strongest, most intense pulses, and therefore the highest readings, were around 50% more likely to suffer more cognitive decline – and therefore had an increased risk of dementia – over the next 10 years, than those who had lower readings.
An intense pulse can damage the small vessels in the brain, which can in turn cause mini-strokes which can heighten a person’s likelihood of getting dementia.
This means that in theory, medical professionals may be able to asssess the risk of dementia in a person around 10 years before symptoms usually begin to present themselves, in the 60s and 70s.
Dr Scott Chiesa, a researcher at UCL, presented the findings at the American Heart Association conference. Of the study, he said, “We demonstrate the first direct link between the intensity of the pulse transmitted towards the brain with every heartbeat and future impairments in cognitive function [brain power].
“It’s therefore an easily measurable and potentially treatable cause of cognitive decline in middle aged adults which can be spotted well in advance.”
Scientists now plan to conduct MRI scans, to discover changes in the brains of the 3,200 people analysed in the study.
Cognitive decline is one of the early signs of dementia, but by no means the only one. Plus, not everyone who experiences cognitive decline will go on to get the disease in later life.
The Alzheimer’s Society has also commented on the research, stating that it doesn’t yet provide enough insight on diagnosing dementia early.
Dr James Pickett, Head of Research, said, “Vascular dementia affects more than 150,000 people in the UK, and with no way to treat the condition, prevention is key. These results support what we know well – that what’s good for the heart is good for the head. But as the study focuses on decline in memory and thinking skills, it can’t tell us whether people with a higher intensity pulse go on to develop vascular dementia.
In the mean time, we are encouraged to try and stave off dementia by living a healthy lifestyle – avoiding smoking, getting in plenty of exercise, and eating a healthy, balanced diet.