A SIMPLE mental test for eight-year-olds could predict their risk of developing dementia 60 years later, a study says.
Youngsters who scored poorly were more likely to have cognitive and memory problems by the time they reached their 70s.
The findings could lead to a childhood screening programme for Alzheimer’s and better medications to treat it. At the moment drugs often fail because they are administered when the disease is too advanced.
Experts followed 502 Brits born in 1946 who did mental tests aged eight — and again between 69 and 71, when they also had brain scans to look for rogue proteins linked to Alzheimer’s.
Those who had the harmful “plaques” had done worse in the tests.
In one, to identify from five options a missing piece in a geometric shape, they scored eight per cent fewer marks.
Prof Jonathan Schott, of University College London, said: “Finding these predictors is important.”
They could, he added, help experts work out the potential changes to education or lifestyle, such as exercise, diet or sleep, “that may in turn slow the development of cognitive decline”.
Dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK – a figure set to rise to two million by 2050. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.
What is dementia and are there different types?
Dementia is a general term used to describe the deterioration of a person’s mental ability that is severe enough to interfere with their daily life.
It is known for the problems it causes with thinking, reasoning and memory – as these are the areas in the brain that become damaged.
There are two main groups dementia can be split into:
- Cortical, which causes severe memory loss like that seen in Alzheimer’s,
- Sub-cortical, which affects thinking speed and activity as seen with Parkinson’s disease.
Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s are two of the most common forms and they both cause problems with memory.
Both are rare in those under 65 years old.
Other common forms of dementia are Frontotemporal dementia, mostly diagnosed in those under 65 years old, and dementia with Lewy bodies, where nerve damage gradually gets worse over time causing slowed movement.
Scientists recently discovered a new form of dementia that has often been mistaken for Alzheimer’s.
They say it is part of the reason why finding a cure to dementia has failed so far.