- More than 55 million people suffer from dementia worldwide.
- Researchers from the University of Cambridge show that it is possible to identify signs of dementia as early as nine years before a diagnosis is received.
- Scientists also found that those with Alzheimer’s were more likely to suffer a decline and had poorer overall health at the start of the study.
More than 55 million people around the world suffer from dementia — a group of conditions that impair a person’s brain function.
Although there is currently no cure for dementia, the earlier a doctor can diagnose a person with dementia, the better symptom management. treatment and slows down its progression.
A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge is now showing that it is possible to detect signs of dementia in people nine years before a diagnosis is received.
This study was recently published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
What is dementia?
Dementia affects the brain and makes it difficult to remember things, communicate, or do everyday tasks such as driving a car or using a cell phone.
The umbrella term dementia covers a range of neurological disorders, including:
- Alzheimer’s dementia
- in connection with Parkinson’s disease
- vascular dementia
- Pick disease (frontotemporal dementia)
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Most people start showing signs of dementia in the mid-60s, but some may start as early as their 30s.
There are a number of early warning signs that doctors look out for when diagnosing dementia. This includes:
- Memory loss that disrupts everyday life
- confusion with dates, times and places,
- Difficulty completing normal tasks at home or at work
- communication issues
- constant laying of objects
- balance problems
- Difficulties in solving problems
- withdrawn from social activities
Signs 9 years before diagnosis
According to Dr. Tim Rittman, Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge Department of Clinical Neurosciences, volunteer neurology As a consultant at the Addenbrookes Memory Clinic in Cambridge and lead author of this study, the team tried to find out how early it was possible to detect changes in memory, thinking and of daily function caused by progressive brain disease such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other similar conditions.
“One of the criticisms of clinical trials of drugs to combat progressive brain diseases is that they recorded diseases too late, at a time when it may not be possible to change the course of (the) disease,” he explained to Medical News Today. “It wasn’t clear how early it was possible to detect brain changes in these diseases.”
“Some evidence from genetic dementia species suggests that changes occur years before diagnosis, but so far it has been much more difficult to prove that this is true for non-genetic types of dementia and other progressive brain diseases,” Dr. Rittman continued.
“If we can identify progressive brain diseases at their earliest stages, we may be able to prevent them from progressing through lifestyle changes or new medications.”
— Dr. Tim Rittman
For this study, Dr. Rittman and his team used data from the UK Biobank, which includes medical information from more than 500,000 people recruited between 2006 and 2010 aged 40 to 69.
After the analysis, the researchers found that those who eventually developed Alzheimer’s disease were considered people who did not develop dementia when tested related to problem-solving tasks, response times, saving lists of numbers, matching pairs and predictive memory. Participants performed these tests five to nine years before they received a diagnosis of dementia.
People with Alzheimer’s were more likely to have a fall than people who were not. And researchers found that for most dementia diseases studied, people reported poorer overall health at the start of the study.
Contributing to preventing future decline
When discussing the next steps for this research, Dr. Rittman said in this study that his team only used memory and thought tests as well as surveys about people’s everyday lives functions. By including additional tests, such as brain scans or blood tests, they can even better predict a person’s risk of dementia.
“Right now, we want people to use these tests to select people for clinical trials of drugs to slow or stop progressive brain disorders,” he said.
“We’d also like to see these tests select people for diet and lifestyle changes to try to prevent the future decline in progressive brain disease to preserve memory, thinking, and mobility,” he added.
Preventative strategies against dementia
Medical News Today also spoke with Dr. Scott Kaiser, a geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, CA, about this study.
He found this study “validating and important” because although clinicians already know certain things such as biomarkers, PET scans and blood tests can show pathological changes in neurodegeneration many years before symptoms occur. This study shows that there are more subtle symptoms that could also occur predictively.
“This is really important because if we could better identify those who are at risk of developing dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, we have a better chance of intervening early to do something about it. And that can be an intervention through lifestyle changes, through changes in the management of other known risk factors, such as vascular risk factors (such as) high blood pressure. And it can also help us better select people for clinical trials to explore new potential treatments.”
— Dr. Scott Kaiser
“This is key — identifying people early on so we can intervene early and really start developing real prevention strategies,” he added.
When it comes to the next steps for this research, Dr. Kaiser said he’d like to see additional refinement to have a strong predictive risk model where doctors can identify people who are at higher risk earlier and direct them to supportive programs to address their risks reduce, such as exercise programs and nutritional support.
“There have been successful interventions in which, by addressing these known risk factors, we can significantly reduce people’s risk and can only potentially prevent some cases from ever occurring,” said Dr. Kaiser.
“One of the real keys to successful such interventions is finding the people (with) this hidden and increasing risk… And that is what we need — we expect 150 million people to live with dementia in the coming decades if we don’t find effective ways to prevent this disease or to Another way to modify, of course,” he added.