Five-Minute Neck Test Can Predict Dementia Ten Years Before Symptoms

A five-minute neck scan recently developed by researchers from the University College London could predict one’s risk of having dementia a decade before the symptoms emerge. The test analyzes pulse of blood vessels in the neck and could become part of routine cognitive decline testing. The researchers presented their findings this past weekend at the American Heart Association’s annual scientific conference.

In their study, the scientists included 3,192 patients of ages 58-74 who had ultrasounds performed on their necks in 2002. These ultrasounds provided pulse pressure readings in the brachial artery with an automated cuff sphygmomanometer. The patients than had their cognitive function monitored for up to 14 years to evaluate the correlation between ultrasound findings and cognitive decline associated with dementia.

Cognitive function was assessed using a “global z-score incorporating multiple cognitive domains” according to the authors. Baseline cognitive assessment was performed at the beginning of the trial, and repeated three times more until trial termination in 2015-2016. Statistical models were adjusted for potential confounding from sociodemographic variables, and health-related behaviors and risk factors.

The researchers found that those with the most intense pulses, a sign of elevated and irregular blood flow, were up to 50% more predisposed to experience cognitive decline later in life. Specifically, these individuals displayed carotid artery forward compression wave intensities in the top quartile of the population.

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This is likely due to the increased force of blood flowing to the brain causing pathologies in the neural blood vessel network. Brachial pulse pressure was found to be positively correlated with forward compression wave intensity, however, no significant direct relationship was found between pulse pressure and cognitive decline.

Irregular and intense pulses often occur when arteries adjacent to the heart are degraded, usually by lifestyle factors including diet and drug use.

“If you can detect [risk] in people in mid-life, it really gives an impetus to those people to change their lifestyle,” said Dr. Scott Chiesa, researcher at the University College London. “What’s good for the arteries is good for the brain. Dementia is not an inevitable cause of aging. How you live your life… has a real impact on how quickly your condition can decline.”

Provided that the findings of this study are supported by further investigation, this preemptive dementia-detection system could have a great impact in preventing cognitive decline. Chiesa notes that these scans would be “well set up for routine testing,” and that they are simple and fast to perform, taking roughly five-minutes in total.

In their published findings, the researchers conclude: “Elevated carotid artery FCW in mid- to late-life are independently associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline. These findings support a link between cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment in later life.”

Sources: CNN, Scientific Sessions 2018