A five-minute neck-to-neck scan can predict a person's risk of developing dementia a full ten years before the onset of symptoms, researchers have said.
The test, which analyzes the heart rate of blood vessels in the neck, could become part of routine tests for cognitive decline, according to the study by University College London (UCL) scientists, who presented their work on the annual scientific website of the American Heart Association. conference.
A group of nearly 3,200 patients, between 58 and 74 years old, had ultrasound on their necks in 2002, before their cognitive functions were followed for 14 years, from 2002 to 2016.
People with the most intensive pulses, who pointed to a larger and more irregular blood flow, were up to 50 percent more likely to have reduced cognitive functions, according to the study, because the strength with which blood traveled to their brains caused damage to the brain. of blood vessels.
Pulses become more intense when arteries near the heart become worn-mostly by lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition and drug use-and can no longer cope with blood flow from the heart & # 39 ;.
"If you can detect [the risk] in people in the middle of life, it really gives an impulse to those people to change their lifestyle, "said Dr. Scott Chiesa, postdoctoral researcher at UCL.
"What is good for the arteries is good for the brain," he added in summary of his findings. "Dementia is not an unavoidable cause of aging, but how you live in your life has a real impact on how quickly your condition can diminish."
If the findings are confirmed by larger studies, they can greatly improve the ability to detect dementia in middle age.
And the scans would be "well designed for routine testing," Chiesa said. "It is very easy to do, and it is very quick to do."
When they are healthy, blood vessels around the heart can regulate the blood that is pumped out of the organ, allowing them to flow smoothly and at a constant rate to the brain.
But damage to the arteries means that blood flows more aggressively and irregularly through blood vessels and the brain, which can damage its network of blood vessels and cells. In the course of time, the researchers believe that this more often led to cognitive decline of participants in the study.
"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," says Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, which was not involved in the research.
Vascular dementia is directly caused by a reduced blood supply to the brain, and this may also play a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease, studies have found. These two disorders constitute the vast majority of dementia cases.
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe symptoms related to the loss of brain function. Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia are the vast majority of cases.
Globally, around 50 million people suffer from dementia, according to the World Health Organization, with an expected increase to 152 million by 2050.
In the United States, the disease is the sixth largest cause of death among all adults, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while in Great Britain heart disease has been overtaken as the leading cause of death, according to the National Statistics Bureau.
& # 39; Promising findings & # 39;
The findings of the study were received with cautious optimism by dementia organizations.
"Getting a diagnosis of dementia can be time-consuming and frustrating for many people, so it's promising that previous indicators of cognitive decline are under development," said Paul Edwards, Director of Clinical Services at Dementia UK.
But he added that attention should also be paid to dementia sufferers after their diagnosis, and says, "The elephant in the room is the lack of support for people and their families once they are diagnosed with dementia."
There is currently no cure for dementia, although medication can be used to treat the symptoms temporarily.
"A diagnosis is often made and then people are sent home without information, no follow-up appointments and no idea what will happen next."
Previous studies have linked the risk of dementia with lifestyle factors such as alcohol use and fitness level this year, but their effects remain largely incurable.
More research is needed to determine whether neck scans should be part of routine dementia testing.
"Although these findings are interesting because the full data from this study is yet to be published, it is difficult to estimate how useful this type of scan could be," Routledge said.
Routledge added that current evidence shows that not smoking, consuming only alcohol within the recommended limits, staying active, monitoring cholesterol levels and following a balanced diet, all help with the health of the heart and brain.
Written by Rob Picheta for CNN.
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