They found those with the most intense pulses went on to experience greater cognitive decline over the next decade than the other study participants
Researchers have shown that early dementia signs could be detected by a simple short scan of the individual’s neck. The actual dementia symptoms could be seen up to 10 years after these signs are visible on the scans they add.
If proven robust for all cases, this test could soon become routine for screening middle aged individuals and classifying them as high risk for dementia later in life.
The researchers at the University College London (UCL) looked at the strength of a pulse travelling to the brain via the neck from the heart. The intensity of this pulse from the heart to different parts of the body often varies.
An international team of experts, led by University College London (UCL), measured the intensity of the pulse travelling towards the brain in 3,191 people in 2002.
A more intense pulse can cause damage to the small vessels of the brain, structural changes in the brain’s blood vessel network and minor bleeds known as mini-strokes.
Over the next 15 years, researchers monitored participants’ memory and problem-solving ability.
Those with the highest intensity pulse (the top quarter of participants) at the beginning of the study were about 50% more likely to show accelerated cognitive decline over the next decade compared with the rest of the participants, the study found.
Researchers said this was the equivalent of about an extra one to one-and-half years of decline.
Cognitive decline is often one of the first signs of dementia, but not everyone who experiences it will go on to develop the condition.
Researchers said the test could provide a new way to identify people who are at risk of developing dementia, leading to earlier treatments and lifestyle interventions.
Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, having a healthy diet, doing regular exercise and not smoking can all help to stave off dementia, evidence suggests.
“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.”
However, the study, co-funded by the British Heart Foundation, does not contain data on which study participants went on to develop dementia.
Researchers next plan to use MRI scans to check if people in the study also display structural and functional changes within the brain that may explain their cognitive decline.
They also want to test whether the scan improves predictive risk scores for dementia which already exist.
She added, “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.”
The study is being presented at the AHA Scientific Sessions conference in Chicago.