Blood scan 'predicts dementia a decade early'

A five-minute scan of blood vessels in the neck during mid-life could become part of future dementia screening, researchers have suggested.

If confirmed in larger studies, the scan – which predicts cognitive decline 10 years before symptoms appear – could become part of routine screening for people at risk of developing dementia.

The research, which is being presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions conference in Chicago, was led by University College London (UCL).

The study saw the team analyse a group of 3,191 middle-aged volunteers, who were given an ultrasound in 2002, which measured the intensity of a pulse travelling towards the brain. Over the next 15 years, they monitored the participants’ memories and problem-solving abilities.

Researchers said that as the heart beats, it generates a physical pulse that travels around the body.

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

However, factors such as ageing and high blood pressure cause stiffening of these blood vessels and may diminish their protective effect.

As a result, a progressively stronger pulse can travel deep into the fragile vessels that supply the brain.

Over time, this can cause damage to the small vessels of the brain and minor bleeds, known as mini strokes, which may contribute to the development of dementia.

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