The first signs of dementia can be identified nearly a decade before diagnosis, latest research has revealed.

People at risk of developing dementia could combat the disease if they are screened early enough for scientists to detect the first signs of the memory loss condition.

Early identification of the disease enables interventions to be put into place to slow down the development of the condition, the study has reported.

First author Nol Swaddiwudhipong said: “When we looked back at people’s 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. This is a step towards us being able to screen people who are at greater 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.”

During the trial, the team of academics examined the cognitive ability of people by looking at the UK Biobank database.

They found that the individuals who struggled with problem solving tasks and number recall could be more at risk of developing dementia in the future.

Co-author Dr Tim Rittman said: “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 GP.”

The individuals from the UK Biobank data who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s had poor problem solving skills and longer reaction times.

Additionally, those who developed Alzheimer’s struggled to remember lists of numbers and pair matching 10 years before they were diagnosed with the memory loss condition.

Healthy older individuals who have a bad fall are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s within the next 12 months, according to the findings.

Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, David Thomas, said: “It is increasingly clear that the best chance to affect the course of the diseases which cause dementia lies in intervening at the earliest stages.

“Health services don’t routinely offer the tests needed to detect changes in brain function that happen before symptoms are noticeable, like those alluded to in this study.”

He added: “In fact, the NHS is currently unable to guarantee early and accurate diagnosis for people living with dementia – more than a third of people over 65 living with dementia go undiagnosed.

“It’s now more important than ever that NHS services reflect our growing understanding of the importance of detection and early diagnosis.”

He concluded: “We must ensure that people with dementia don’t fall through the cracks at a time when treatment or risk-reduction interventions are most likely to be effective.”

Read the full study in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

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