Scientists at a London university have discovered that a simple five-minute test can reveal the risk of cognitive decline 10 years before the symptoms begin to show.
Researchers at UCL have found, from studying middle-aged volunteers, that a scan of the neck can show the tell-tale stiffening of the blood vessels, diminishing their ability to protect more delicate vessels around the body from the powerful physical pulses of blood generated by the heart.
Over time, this can lead to damage to the small vessels of the brain, causing structural changes in the brain's blood vessel network and leading to minor bleeds or mini strokes, which all may contribute to the development of dementia.
A 15-year study of more than 3,000 people began with the volunteers having an ultrasound to detect the strength of the pulse to the brain. This was followed up by researchers monitoring the participants’ memory and cognitive skills.
The analysis revealed that those in the top quarter of the highest pulse intensity were more likely to show decline later on. Even after adjustments had been made for factors such as BMI, diabetes and blood pressure, the difference was still present.
Darren Pitcher, a senior nurse working for Care UK said: “This is an interesting piece of research. Any indicators that reveal the nature of how dementia develops and how it can be identified, at the earliest possible opportunity, is very welcome.
“I think it is important that people maintain a healthy lifestyle that we know reduces other factors associated with developing dementia, for example keeping a healthy weight, exercising, avoiding excess sugar, fat and salt, and keeping mentally active.
“By doing this we not only give our bodies and brains the best chance of a healthy future but we also increase our mental health and wellbeing.”