Your doctor completes the short procedure and gives you the unwelcome news: You are at high risk of developing a devastating neurological disease ten years down the road.
This scenario could soon become a reality, because a new way has been found to predict if you’re likely to become a victim of dementia.
All it takes is five minutes. But would you want to take the test? Chances are you will, because the pathology it identifies can be treated.
Hardening of the Arteries Increases Risk by Half
Research teams from University College London (UCL) and Cardiff University, Wales, enrolled 3,192 volunteers aged between 58 and 74. Their cognitive abilities were tested at the commencement of the study, and then three more times over the next 11 to 14 years.
The participants also received an ultrasound neck scan to measure the intensity of “carotid artery forward compression waves.” That’s a mouthful; in simple terms, it’s a measure of the force needed to propel blood to the brain.
After taking age, blood pressure, body mass index, diabetes and other cardiovascular conditions into account, the researchers found those with the highest intensity pulses at the start of the study were 50 per cent more likely to suffer accelerated cognitive decline over the following decade.
Dr. Scott Chiesa from UCL, who led the research, presented the results of the study at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions conference in Chicago just a few weeks ago.
“These findings,” he reported, “demonstrate the first direct link between the intensity of the pulse transmitted towards the brain with every heartbeat and future impairments in cognitive function.
“It’s therefore an easily measurable and potentially treatable cause of cognitive decline in middle-aged adults which can be spotted well in advance.”
The reason why some people have a stronger pulse is put down to less elastic blood vessels caused by aging, health conditions and lifestyle factors.
Every heartbeat generates waves through the cardiovascular system at different degrees of intensity. When blood vessels near the heart are healthy and pliable, they cushion these strong pulses, diminishing their energy, so that delicate blood vessels far from the heart are protected.
But when vessels become less elastic, the condition leads to stronger pulses. In the neck, stiffer arteries allow these more powerful waves to pound the brain’s fragile blood vessels. This can cause damage leading to mini strokes and other structural changes that increase the risk of dementia.
A Useless Test?
UK psychiatrist and author Max Pemberton is one doctor who would not take the test.
“If medicine has taught me anything,” he writes, “it is that there are circumstances when it makes sense not to know what fate has in store for us. Far from informing the way we conduct our lives, it can overshadow everything — robbing us of the present as we sit waiting for the worst to happen.
“I wonder who on earth would want to take such a test when there is as yet no cure for dementia. What kind of life would it be, living with that prognosis blighting your every moment?”
I strongly disagree with Dr. Pemberton’s opinion.
The people who would want to take this test are those who know there are a large number of practical things they can do to delay or even stop the progress of stiff arteries, like exercising, cutting stress, improving sleep, eating sensibly, and taking a few selected supplements (something as simple as enzymes can help).
If you have been with Brain Health Breakthroughs for long, you’re probably familiar with the work of pioneering scientists like Dale Bredesen who have reversed cognitive decline in up to 90 per cent of patients.
In an interview, Dr. Bredesen said that among this group he’s heard “just some amazing stories, people talking about their ability to interact with their spouses, their children, go back to work, do jobs they couldn’t do before, get their memories back, and things like that…”
But if you put all your faith in the pharmaceutical industry to find a magic bullet, you should take Dr. Pemberton’s advice. It might be better not to know what’s coming.
Those who appreciate the value of dietary and lifestyle changes, and the brain benefits that come from taking nutritional supplements, will not fear such a test, they will welcome it.