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5-minute neck scan may improve dementia diagnosis

13 November 2018 08:14

Dementia affects around 850,000 in the UK

Dementia affects around 850,000 in the UK

A quick scan of the blood vessels in a patient's neck could soon be a critical part of future dementia screening, new research has suggested.

If the method is confirmed in larger studies, the five-minute scan given during mid-life - which can predict cognitive decline 10 years before symptoms appear - could become a regular system for testing dementia development in those at risk.

The research, led by scientists at University College London, is being presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions conference in Chicago.

Physical pulse

Scientists involved in the research said that as the heart beats, it generates a physical pulse that travels around the body.

Healthy, elastic vessels near the heart usually diminish the energy carried by this pulse by cushioning each heartbeat, preventing the pulse from reaching delicate blood vessels elsewhere in the body.

Factors like ageing and high blood pressure cause stiffening of these blood vessels, however, and may diminish their protective effect and as a result of this a progressively stronger pulse can travel deep into the fragile vessels which supply the brain.

Over time, this 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, which all may contribute to the development of dementia.

The study saw the team analyse a group of 3,191 middle-aged volunteers who were given an ultrasound in 2002 and over the next 15 years, they monitored the participant's memory and problem-solving ability.

Cognitive decline

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the research, said: "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.

"This test may provide a new way to identify people at risk of cognitive decline long before they display any noticeable symptoms.

"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."

Dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK. Vascular dementia is one of the most common types, caused by a problem with blood supply to the brain which damages or kills brain cells.

Research suggests that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, having a healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking can all help to stave off dementia.

If you're living with dementia, why not get cover that meets your needs and check out our range of dedicated dementia travel insurance to give yourself peace of mind the next time you travel.