Signs of dementia ‘could be visible up to a DECADE before patients are even diagnosed’
- Experts said the discovery could lead to routine screening for those most at risk
- The Cambridge team analyzed data from half a million UK participants aged 40-69
- Participants underwent a series of tests including problem solving, memory, reaction times and grip strength
According to one study, possible signs of dementia can be visible for up to a decade before people are usually diagnosed.
People who had performed poorly on problem-solving and memory tests nine years earlier were more likely to contract diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Cambridge scientists have found.
Experts said the finding could lead to routine screening for those most at risk, who could benefit from early treatment and clinical trials.
The team analyzed data from half a million British participants aged 40 to 69 from the UK Biobank.
People who performed poorly on problem-solving and memory tests nine years earlier were more likely to contract diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Cambridge scientists have found
In addition to collecting information about participants’ health and disease diagnoses, they also underwent a series of tests including problem solving, memory, reaction times and grip strength.
Information was also collected on weight loss and gain and the number of falls.
This was then compared to information collected between five and nine years earlier.
People who developed Alzheimer’s disease performed worse than healthy people on problem-solving tasks, reaction times, memorizing lists of numbers, prospective memory (our ability to remember to do something later) and pair matching.
This was also the case for people who developed a rarer form of dementia known as frontotemporal dementia, the researchers found.
According to findings published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, those who developed Alzheimer’s disease were more likely than healthy adults to have fallen in the previous 12 months.
Scientists found that for every condition studied – including Parkinson’s disease and dementia – patients reported poorer overall health at onset.
Dr Nol Swaddiwudhipong, from the University of Cambridge, said: “When we looked at the patient’s history, it became clear that they had cognitive impairment for several years before their symptoms became evident enough to trigger a diagnosis. .
“The impairments were often subtle, but across a number of aspects of cognition.
“It’s a step forward so that we can screen those most at risk – for example, people over 50 or those who have high blood pressure or don’t exercise enough – and intervene to an earlier stage to help them reduce their risk.’
Currently, there are very few effective treatments for dementia or other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
Experts suggest this is partly because these conditions are often not diagnosed until symptoms appear, when the underlying problem may have started years or even decades earlier.
This means that by the time patients enter clinical trials, it may already be too late in the disease process to alter its course.
Until now, it was unclear whether it was possible to detect changes in brain function before symptoms appear.
Experts said people shouldn’t be unduly concerned if they had problems remembering certain things like numbers, suggesting there was also variation among healthy adults.
But they encouraged anyone with concerns to speak to their GP.
David Thomas, policy manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It is increasingly clear that the best chance of influencing the course of diseases that cause dementia lies in intervening at their earliest stages.
“Health services do not routinely offer the tests needed to detect changes in brain function that occur before symptoms are noticeable, such as those hinted at in this study.
“In fact, the NHS is currently unable to guarantee an early and accurate diagnosis for people with dementia – more than a third of people over 65 with dementia are undiagnosed.
He added: “It is now more important than ever that NHS services reflect our growing understanding of the importance of early detection and diagnosis.
“We need to ensure that people with dementia do not fall through the cracks at a time when treatment or risk reduction interventions are most likely to be effective.”
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE BLURRED DISEASE THAT STEALS PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM THEIR MEMORIES
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CHALLENGE
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those that affect the brain) that impact memory, thinking and behavior.
There are many types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of dementia types.
Regardless of the type diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own way.
Dementia is a global concern, but is most commonly seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live to very old ages.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports that there are over 900,000 people with dementia in the UK today. This figure is expected to reach 1.6 million by 2040.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75% of those diagnosed.
In the United States, it is estimated that there are 5.5 million people with Alzheimer’s disease. A similar percentage increase is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, the risk of developing dementia also increases.
Diagnosis rates are improving, but it is believed that many people with dementia remain undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently, there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow its progression and the earlier it is spotted, the more effective the treatments.
Source: Alzheimer Society
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