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Dec 3, 2018,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Dementia: A neck scan can detect who is at risk way before the first symptoms appear

An international team of researchers led by University College London (UCL) has discovered a way of detecting the early signs of dementia. Patients can be diagnosed up to 10 years before any symptoms appear, thanks to a simple neck scan.  


A straightforward neck scan that takes around five minutes could help detect the risk of dementia, according to a study carried out by an international team of experts, reports News Medical. The results of the research were presented during an American Heart Association (AHA) conference in Chicago, which was held from 10th to 12th November. The authors of the study analysed scans of more than 3,200 participants over 15 years. They measured the intensity of the pulse towards the brain, through the neck’s blood vessels, and evaluated the participants’ memory and cognitive ability.  


A high-intensity pulse


The results showed that the subjects with the highest intensity pulse at the beginning of the study had a 50% higher risk of developing early-onset dementia. This could be because a stronger pulse can damage the small vessels in the brain and cause structural changes to the brain’s blood vessel network, as well as minor bleeds that can be classed as “mini strokes”. 

The current methods for diagnosing dementia tend to be based on cognitive decline, an approach that can be fairly inaccurate – not all patients with cognitive decline are suffering from dementia – and too late. “Dementia is the end result of decades of damage, so by the time people get dementia it's too late to do anything,” explains Dr Scott Chiesa from University College London.  


Taking earlier action


“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,” adds Scott Chiesa. This scan enables the earlier diagnosis of at-risk patients, up to ten years before any symptoms of the disease appear, allowing doctors to prescribe treatments earlier and suggest ways in which the patient’s lifestyle might be improved.  

Today, dementia affects 47 million people worldwide, a number which could increase to 115 million individuals by 2050. This is why scientists are seeking ways to identify at-risk patients before their symptoms occur, so that they can take early action. 


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