13 November 2018

Five-Minute Neck Scan Could Predict Dementia Risk

New research suggests that a five-minute neck scan could be used to detect dementia around a decade prior to symptoms showing. The scan of blood vessels could become part of routine screening for people at risk of developing dementia, if it can be proven in further studies.

Researchers said as the heart beats, it generates a pulse that travels around the body. Healthy, elastic vessels near the heart usually diminish the energy carried by this pulse by cushioning each heartbeat. This prevents the pulse from reaching delicate blood vessels elsewhere.

The team of researchers analysed a group of more than 3,000 middle-aged volunteers who were given an ultrasound in 2002, which measured the intensity of the pulse travelling towards their brain. Over the next fifteen years, the participant’s memory and problem-solving ability was monitored.

Participants with the highest intensity pulse (top 25%) at the beginning of the study were around 50% more likely to exhibit accelerated cognitive decline over the next decade compared to the rest of the participants. Cognitive decline is often one of the first signs of dementia, but not everyone who shows signs of cognitive decline will go on to develop dementia."What's good for the arteries is good for the brain," he added in summary of his findings. "Dementia is not an inevitable cause of aging. How you live your life... has a real impact on how quickly your condition can decline."

This difference was present even after adjustments for possible confounding factors, such as age, body mass index, blood pressure and diabetes, and whether participants had other heart conditions.

They now plan to use MRI scans to check if participants display structural and functional changes within the brain which may explain the differences in cognitive abilities. More research is needed to determine whether neck scans should become a part of routine testing for dementia.

The research was led by University College London (UCL).