A 5-minute neck scan could spot dementia 10 years before symptoms appear, according to research

A neck scan could help determine those most at risk of dementia. Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock
  • There are about 50 million people in the world living with dementia.
  • It’s the umbrella term given to the symptoms caused by various diseases – most commonly Alzheimer’s.
  • A new neck scan could help determine those most at risk, according to a new study.
  • The test measures pulse intensity, which is a risk factor for mini-strokes.

Scientists have come up with a five minute test that they say could help predict a person’s risk of dementia ten years before they develop symptoms.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) presented their study at the American Heart Association’s annual scientific conference last weekend.

The research involved 3,191 patients, all 58 to 74 years old, who had ultrasound scans on their necks in 2002. Then, their cognitive functions were monitored for 14 years until 2016.

The scanners were detecting pulse, as a more intense pulse can cause damage to small vessels in the brain, causing minor bleeds called mini-strokes. The damage of mini-strokes may build up over time, potentially causing dementia symptoms.

Results of the study showed people with more intense pulses were up to 50% more likely to suffer reduced cognitive functions than the other participants – tested with memory and problem-solving experiments.

Cognitive decline is sometimes a precursor to dementia, but not everyone who struggles with cognitive decline will go on to develop a dementia-causing disease.

Dementia is a term used for symptoms like confusion, memory loss, mood changes, and personality changes. There are a whole range of conditions that can cause dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, vascular dementia, and Frontotemporal dementia.

Read more:
15 common misconceptions and surprising realities about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

The researchers said the test could identify people who are at risk of developing dementia up to decade earlier, which could help with prevention methods such as lifestyle changes and treatments.

For instance, people can actively control their blood pressure and cholesterol, exercise regularly, eat healthily, and not smoke.

“Dementia is not an inevitable cause of ageing,” said Scott Chiesa, a post-doctoral researcher at UCL, according to CNN. “How you live your life has a real impact on how quickly your condition can decline.”

He added that dementia is the end result of decades of damage, so by the time you get it it’s too late to do anything. That’s why a test which could identify those at the highest risk could be incredibly significant for the field.

However, the study doesn’t have any data on which study participants went on to develop dementia. The team want to next use MRI scans to determine whether participants’ brains changed in ways to explain their cognitive decline.

Carol Routledge, the director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said it was not clear if the scan will help improve diagnoses.

“What we do know is that the blood supply in the brain is incredibly important, and that maintaining a healthy heart and blood pressure is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia,” she said.