Sadly, dementia is in the cards for many people. Detected early it can be slowed down, which is why scientists are looking for new, more accurate early diagnosis measures. Now researchers at UCL have found that neck scan could predict risk of developing cognitive decline. This new idea is based on the fact that as we age our arteries near heart lose their dampening properties.
Heart is pumping blood with quite some force, which is its job. However, this pulsating force could be damaging to smaller vessels which supply the brain. Elastic arteries near the heart are able to dampen some of that pulsating force, making the flow a bit gentler on fragile vessels, but over time these arteries lose their elasticity. As they slowly lose their dampening properties, the pulsating force on brain-feeding vessels becomes harsher and some of them can be damaged, resulting in mini strokes. All of this increases the risk of dementia.
Scientists studied a group of 3,191 middle-aged volunteers for 15 years. They were given an ultrasound measuring the intensity of the pulse reaching their brain and then researchers monitored the participant’s memory and problem-solving ability. Participants who experienced harsher pulsating in their brain-feeding vessels were at around a 50% higher risk of developing cognitive decline over the next decade. However, the research is still on-going – now scientists will perform MRI scans to look for structural damage in the brain, which would prove the role of heart's pulse transmitted towards the brain in developing dementia. Scientists say that scan of blood vessels in the neck could become part of routine screening programme for people at risk of developing dementia.
In order to lower the risk of dementia one should lead a healthy lifestyle – a healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking can all help to stave off dementia. Professor Metin Avkiran, one of the authors of the study, said: “The best way to protect yourself is to lead a lifestyle that keeps your blood vessels healthy. The same risk factors which are linked to heart disease – such as high blood pressure and lack of exercise – are strongly linked to dementia. It really is a case of healthy body and healthy mind”.
Dementia is a hugely debilitating condition, which reduces the life quality of the patient and his family. Currently there is no cure, but scientists are working hard on trying to unravel the mysteries of the mechanism behind dementia. It is predicted that in the coming couple of decades advanced dementia therapies will emerge, which is a huge hope as the population in the Western world is quickly aging.