In Depth

Five-minute neck scan ‘could predict dementia’

Scan shows whether the brain's blood vessels are protecting it from the strong pulse of the heart

A five-minute neck scan could be used to spot people at risk of dementia before symptoms appear, according to new scientific research.

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”, says The London Evening Standard.

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

The scientists used ultrasound scanners to look at blood vessels in the necks of more than 3,000 people and monitored them over the next 15 years.

The scan identifies “whether the vessels in the neck are stiffening, diminishing their ability to protect more delicate vessels around the body from the powerful physical pulses of blood generated by the heart”, says Sky News.

The study found those with the highest intensity pulse (the top quarter of participants) at the beginning of the study “were about 50% more likely to show accelerated cognitive decline over the next decade compared with the rest of the participants”, the study found.

Researchers said “this was the equivalent of about an extra one to one-and-half years of decline”, according to the BBC.

Cognitive decline “is often one of the first signs of dementia, but not everyone who experiences it will go on to develop the condition”, the broadcaster adds.

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

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