Scan can predict dementia long before symptoms: study

Ultrasound can predict onset 10 years before symptoms appear, say researchers.

neck scan

The hunt for both an effective treatment for dementia and a reliable diagnostic tool continues to absorb scientists worldwide. Now, after 15 years of testing on almost 3200 middle-aged volunteers, an international team has found a simple five-minute neck scan can predict the onset of dementia 10 years before symptoms appear.

The London Telegraph reports that the study, led by scientists from University College London (UCL), involved the use of ultrasound scanners and monitored the strength of a person’s pulse as it travelled towards the brain.

As the heart beats, the pulse reaches different parts of the body at different levels of intensity. The study found that people with the highest intensity pulses were 50 per cent more likely to experience cognitive decline over the next decade than the rest of the volunteers.

The researchers found that a more intense pulse can damage the small vessels of the brain, cause structural changes in the brain’s network of blood vessels and lead to minor bleeds known as mini-strokes, the newspaper reports.

Researchers explained that elastic vessels near the heart cushion each heartbeat and prevent damage to delicate blood vessels elsewhere in the body. However, age and high blood pressure can reduce the vessels’ elasticity resulting in a stronger pulse.

They hope that middle-age persons identified as being at risk of developing dementia could be routinely screened allowing for earlier treatments and lifestyle changes to be implemented.

Dr Scott Chiesa, from UCL, said dementia was the result of decades of damage.

“What we're trying to say is you need to get in as early as possible, identify a way to see who's actually progressing towards possibly getting dementia and target them,” he said.

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation which co-funded the research, was optimistic that the neck scan could provide a new way to identify people at risk of cognitive decline long before they displayed noticeable symptoms.

“Our beating heart is what keeps us alive, but we also need healthy blood vessels to maintain a healthy blood supply to all organs, including the brain,” he said.

“What we need now is further research, for example to understand whether lifestyle changes and medicines that reduce pulse wave intensity also delay cognitive decline.”

The research is being presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions conference in Chicago.

Dementia affects about 50 million people worldwide – and 425,000 in Australia – and is the second leading cause of death in Australia. Recent estimates show that dementia costs the healthcare system about $15 billion a year.

Would you have a neck scan to assess whether you have a heightened risk of developing dementia?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Barbara Mathieson
    13th Nov 2018
    Don’t want any neck scan for Dementia thanks! Would depress me if positive !!
    15th Nov 2018
    What are "highest intensity pulses"? Never heard of that before?
    13th Nov 2018
    You could find out, but not much help if there are no advances in treating it! You would be left feeling miserable and frightened for possibly a very long time.
    13th Nov 2018
    It seems the best health care is the old adage to have a check up from the neck up!

    My apologies to be so juvenile, but I couldn't resist the temptation.

    13th Nov 2018
    Any reliable methods to detect onset of such problems early, as well as research WHY it is happening (foods, etc) is most welcome, as Prevention is better than the cures later which may not work or may be only partially effective.

    A concern with this research is it's stated reliance on Ultrasound - a very unreliable tool to define / measure anything with accuracy (good only for initial detection of certain conditions).
    13th Nov 2018
    Please explain your second paragraph.
    13th Nov 2018
    Ultrasound produces a hazy image, sometimes unable to clearly identify even tumours, muscle tears, etc, and depends a lot on the skill of the technician as well. Ask a medical specialist in this area if you wish. I, for one, would not want to depend on this tool for such an important diagnosis - even an "all looks OK' diagnosis may not be believable.
    18th Nov 2018
    I agree George, a totally unreliable method and one that could be misinterpreted easily.
    13th Nov 2018
    Why do I get the impression this has been significantly edited and several key words are missing.
    i.e." a simple five-minute neck scan can predict the onset of dementia 10 years before symptoms appear" should perhaps read "a simple five-minute neck scan may indicate a predisposition to the onset of dementia in the next decade."
    13th Nov 2018
    I kin noo believe ya, so i'm noo breakin me neck to find oot.

    13th Nov 2018
    I want a cure for dementia, not a diagnosis 10 years out. Our doctor has a policy of not telling patients of an incurable illness unless there is 6 months to go. His reasoning is that medical science is achieving breakthroughs every day and what is incurable today may have a cure tomorrow.

    His reasoning also takes into consideration what he has seen over his many years of practice where, in a lot of cases, patients go "downhill" very rapidly because of the information. He also claims that all of us need 6 months to get our affairs in order. I tend to agree with him.
    13th Nov 2018
    So true, Old Man. I suppose it gives people a chance to stockpile medications for end of life.
    15th Nov 2018
    Unusual to see you on a non politics forum OM. Well done.
    Don't worry about dementia. You are pretty on the ball so no concerns there.
    13th Nov 2018
    Until they have found a cure for dementia, I would really rather not know. Just think there would be ten years of anxiety/depression when you could be enjoying life.
    18th Nov 2018
    There is a cure, it is called prevention. Less protein, more fruit and veg, exercise, less chemcials in and on your body and in your home, etc. You can minimize your risk at least.
    14th Nov 2018
    Old Man, I think your doc is putting himself in a dubious ethical position. Unless a patient's living will has specified that they don't want to be informed of a terminal diagnosis until six months before the end, I believe it is incumbent upon the doctor to tell you the diagnosis as soon as it is known. I don't think a medical practioner can make up their own 'policy' in this regard.
    14th Nov 2018
    Vinradio, I tend to agree with you. However, I am a very realistic person and I think on balance I would prefer to know the worst. I also agree with the comments that have pointed out the shortcomings of ultrasound. Perhaps an ultrasound scan can simply support an in depth analysis of all the other potential symptoms of dementia that might be evident.
    18th Nov 2018
    All this will do is give doctors more of an excuse to give you more pills and make the whole thing worse. I would not trust it. Prevention is the key. eating a healthy, balanced diet.
    1.maintaining a healthy weight.
    2.exercising regularly.
    3.keeping alcohol to a minimum.
    4.stopping smoking.
    5.keeping blood pressure at a healthy level.
    Here are some more:
    And here:
    Proper nutrition, low fat whole food diet is the best, less meat, less protein, more fruit and veg.
    18th Nov 2018
    Likely to spot a lot of other things before dementia comes up

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles

    You May Like