LONDON – An examination that lasts only five minutes and is painless may be responsible for predicting the risk of dementia in patients years before the disease begins to develop. With the help of an ultrasound device that analyzes blood vessels in the neck of the people examined, scientists have analyzed and monitored more than 3,000 participants for 15 years, finding a relationship between the disease and stronger arterial pulsations.
According to the study conducted by University College London (UCL) in 2002, people with a stronger neck pulse are more likely to have cognitive decline, one of the indications for dementia – according to the participants analyzed in the study . Following the result, the scientists hope that the test can function systematically as a way to prevent the disease.
A stronger heartbeat is responsible for a greater damage to blood vessels, according to the study. About a quarter of the 3,191 participants had above-average blood pressure – they all had a 50% higher cognitive decline than the rest of the subjects examined. This represents about a year and a half more than decline than normal. One of the researchers involved, however, recalled that dementia is a combined outcome.
– Dementia is the end result of decades of damage, so when people have the disease, it's too late to do anything. What we're trying to say is that we need to identify those who are at risk and treat them as soon as possible, "UCL's Scott Chiesa told the BBC.
To prevent the disease, you need to have a healthy diet, exercise regularly, in addition to having a controlled blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The next step is to use MRI scans to identify structural changes in the brains of people who are predisposed to dementia.
Carol Routledge, director at Alzheimer's Research UK, said it was not yet possible to say that the ultrasound examinations covered in the study could help in the diagnosis, however.
"What we are sure of is that vascularization in the brain is incredibly important, and maintaining healthy heart and blood pressure is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia," she told the BBC.