As we grow older, many of us fear the possibility that we could be diagnosed with dementia. Few things are more frightening than the thought of losing our independence to this progressive disease.
Now, researchers at the University of Cambridge say signs of dementia may appear up to nine years in advance of when the illness is typically diagnosed.
Catching these signs early enough might offer the possibility of treating underlying factors at a time when it can make a big difference to your long-term health.
In a summary of the research findings, the study’s first author, Nol Swaddiwudhipong, a junior doctor at the University of Cambridge, says:
“This is a step towards us being able to screen people who are at greatest risk — for example, people over 50 or those who have high blood pressure or do not do enough exercise — and intervene at an earlier stage to help them reduce their risk.”
Following are key signs of dementia that may appear almost a decade in advance of symptoms clear enough for a diagnosis, according to the recent research published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
1. Poorer scores on certain cognitive tests
The researchers looked at data from tests of a half-million participants in the U.K. between the ages of 40 and 69. The testing included problem-solving, memory, reaction times and grip strength.
Those who fared poorly on such tests were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia.
In the summary of the research findings, Swaddiwudhipong says:
“When we looked back at patients’ histories, it became clear that they were showing some cognitive impairment several years before their symptoms became obvious enough to prompt a diagnosis. The impairments were often subtle, but across a number of aspects of cognition.”
2. A recent fall
Those who were eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease were more likely than others to have experienced a fall during the previous 12 months.
Patients who developed a rare neurological condition called progressive supranuclear palsy were more than twice as likely as healthy people to have experienced a fall. PSP impacts a person’s balance.
3. Poorer overall health
Participants who were in poor overall health were more likely to develop every type of health condition screened for in the study, including Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.
If you notice any of the symptoms listed in the study, don’t panic. In the summary of the research findings, the study’s senior author, Dr. Tim Rittman from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, says:
“People should not be unduly worried if, for example, they are not good at recalling numbers. Even some healthy individuals will naturally score better or worse than their peers. But we would encourage anyone who has any concerns or notices that their memory or recall is getting worse to speak to their [general practitioner].”
For more on keeping dementia at bay, read: