It could be possible to spot signs of dementia up to nine years before diagnosis, a new study finds.
The findings, published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Associationmean that future high-risk patients could be screened to help identify those who could benefit from early interventions to reduce their risk of developing dementia-related diseases.
They can also help select appropriate treatments for clinical trials for new treatments.
“When we looked back at patients’ histories, it became clear that they were exhibiting cognitive impairment several years before their symptoms were apparent enough to make a diagnosis,” said study co-author Nol Swaddiwudhipong, a resident physician at the University of Cambridge.
“The limitations were often subtle, but about some aspects of cognition. This is a step towards screening people who are most at risk – for example, people over 50 or those with high blood pressure or who don’t exercise – and can intervene at an earlier stage to help them reduce their risk. ”
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank database and determined problem solving and number recall as two of the first signs that patients could be developing dementia.
Senior author Dr Tim Rittman, also from the University of Cambridge, said: “People shouldn’t worry too much if they’re not good at remembering numbers, for example.
“Even some healthy individuals will naturally score better or worse than their peers. But we would encourage anyone who is concerned or notices that their memory or recall is getting worse to speak to their GP.”
People from the UK Biobank data who developed Alzheimer’s disease scored worse compared to healthy individuals when it came to problem-solving tasks, reaction times, memorizing grade lists, prospective memory (our ability to remember to do something later) and match pairs.
This was also the case for people who developed a rarer form of dementia known as frontotemporal dementia, the researchers found.
According to the study, people who developed Alzheimer’s disease were more likely than healthy adults to fall in the previous 12 months.
David Thomas, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that the best chance of influencing the course of the diseases that cause dementia lies in intervening at their earliest stages.
“Health services do not routinely provide the tests necessary to detect changes in brain function that occur before symptoms are noticeable, such as those referenced in this study.
“In fact, the NHS cannot currently guarantee an early and accurate diagnosis for people with dementia – over a third of people aged over 65 with dementia go undiagnosed.
He added: “It is now more important than ever that NHS services reflect our growing understanding of the importance of detection and early diagnosis.
“We need to make sure people with dementia don’t fall through the cracks at a time when treatment or risk reduction interventions are most likely to be effective.”
Additional reporting by PA