Mass memory and reasoning tests 'track dementia risk'

human brain The study will try to find early markers for dementia

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A third of a million adults in the UK are to be invited to take part in the world's biggest study of cognitive function.

The aim of the trial, funded by the Medical Research Council, is to try to predict what factors may increase the risk of developing dementia.

All the participants will be part of UK Biobank, and previously gave DNA samples and lifestyle information.

They will be asked to do a series of memory and reasoning tests online.

When they were enrolled in UK Biobank over the past decade, volunteers gave blood and urine samples, underwent a fitness test and answered questions on their health and diet.


They also did a series of computer-based puzzles - those cognitive tests will now be repeated.

What is the test like?

If you are already part of UK Biobank then you may remember doing a computer test measuring your cognitive function.

This includes simple games like Snap and some easy Maths questions.

But there are some designed to stretch you.

Some of the tests are done against the clock, so it can tell researchers whether your speed of response has declined.

It doesn't matter if you get the questions wrong - I am sure I made a few mistakes.

You will not be given your test results or be told whether you did better or worse than when you enrolled.

So what's in it for volunteers?

Nothing except the knowledge that you are helping improve the health of future generations.

It is a piece of pure altruism to which half a million Britons signed up.

So it may not help you, but it could help your children or grandchildren stay healthy.

All the participants were aged 40-69 when the programme started.

This time the volunteers can do the test at home by logging in online.

Dr John Gallacher, an epidemiologist at Cardiff University. who helped devise the tests said: "Most people will have just minute falls in their test results since they did them last time but even this might help us predict who will develop dementia in the future."

Researchers will also look at other factors like smoking, diet and exercise, to see how big a factor these are in triggering dementia.

"It's important to stress that this is not a dementia test," said Dr Gallacher.

"In order to stratify people for dementia risk we have to know their cognitive function before they develop the condition."


UK Biobank, based in Stockport, is the world's biggest and most detailed biomedical resource.

Information about individual participants is anonymised, but open to researchers in any field provided they feed all their results back.

Another long term goal is to develop new treatments.

Dr Gallacher added: "If we could delay the onset of dementia by five years that would halve the number of people with the condition, which would be massive".

Dr Doug Brown, Alzheimer's Society Director of Research and Development said: "We know that changes in the brain happen decades before any symptoms of dementia present themselves.

"Studying people in mid-life could ultimately help us find clues to understand or even prevent the condition."

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    It would be informative to track political disposition in association with dementia. It would come as little surprise to learn that elections are being decided by the dementia vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Dr. Neal Barnard (of the PCRM) : "...evidence strongly suggests that if a person follows a healthy plant based diet it would protect the brain. Particularly against the problem that occur in later life, like Alzheimer disease.
    Why? First of all we've learned that people who eat lots of animal fat, scientifically we call it saturated fat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    You may be correct with ' Korsakov's' syndrome however my grandmother and auntnever touched a drop except a glass of sherry at christmas and both succumbed - only in their late 60's too

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    As life expectancy increases all over the world there will be unprecedented cases of dementia so it is important that every opportunity to understand the development and diagnosis of this problem is supported.
    It is explained in the article that this is a long term project not a test for dementia in those taking part.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    'I live in Hebei Province, China, and never have I in my life heard anybody in my neighborhood suffered from dementia.'

    Could it be that it's not talked about or you don't recognise the local term as the same condition?

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    I live in Hebei Province, China, and never have I in my life heard anybody in my neighborhood suffered from dementia. Is there a chance that the dementia rate in one place is higher that in another city? And if there is, some factors beyond individual level might also contribute to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    I think most of our MP's have this condition. They can't seem to recite more than two words without referring back to their notes. Mind you someone else has probably compiled them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Vegans and other flavours of vegetarianism suffer less..their imbalanced diet generally reduces their life spans.

    many articles suggesting vegetarians are more likely to suffer from dementia but this seems to be based on an assumption that they would have a vitamin B12 deficiency which isn't nec the case in the west., on the other hand vegetarians do have a slightly longer lifespan

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    I live is Australia originally from Africa Zambia in particular. I came to learn about dementia here when I worked in a nursing home between 2008 and 2010. I have never seen it in Zambia where I came from. I do not know if it is food or too much medicine. I noticed 1 thing though when I was working in the nursing home too much medication everyday anti depressant and sleeping pills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    148.jack daniels esq
    'Never met anybody who overdosed on apples ...'

    I knew someone who was once hospitalised by a surfeit of rhubarb. I never heard of apples curing cancer, aids or septicemia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    @11 berserkerphil
    Dementia IS a global problem wherever there is an ageing population.
    In third worlds countries there is also NOT as much demand for old folks homes as in the 'developed word'.
    *Looming dementia epidemic in Asia
    *China’s population is ageing fast. Life expectancy in China has gone from 68.4 years in 1990 to 73.8 in 2008

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Rise in dementia is correlated with a rise in life expectancy, as we are an ageing population the incidence is clearly going to rise.

    Also the actual cause is unknown by the greatest scientists in the field so you kooks who've done 20 minutes research on a nutrition forum or a conspiracy website are just deluded to think you have any clue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    @11 berserkerphilI "have said for years it is something in our food or water causing this because it is NOT an issue in third world countries."

    Yes because dementia is a disease for the elderly, life expectancy is markedly lower in third world countries... if you don't live long enough you won't get dementia. Simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Good night everyone and thanks to some of you for sharing some interesting information and thoughtful ideas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    @@ Shed

    "" ... Dementia- the most misunderstood concept in modern healthcare. Even scientists are somewhat clueless about it- look at Alzheimer's disease for example, 10 years of clinical trial failures, four approved drugs that do.. basically nothing.... ""

    Dementia is not losing your car keys - everybody does - but finding them and not knowing what they are for

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    dementia is more common,in people with alcoholic drinking,during lifetime

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    @@ DivideBy0

    @142 "" ....All drugs are bad' ... Oh come on. You know and are not search engines right .... "".

    @@ GWJA

    @142 jack "" .. You're right. All the answers are on line, at nut bag conspiracy web sites ... ""

    Never met anybody who overdosed on apples ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Dementia- the most misunderstood concept in modern healthcare. Even scientists are somewhat clueless about it- look at Alzheimer's disease for example, 10 years of clinical trial failures, four approved drugs that do.. basically nothing.. and all because we've chased the, frankly absurd, amyloid hypothesis blindly whilst rejecting all other valid scientific notions.. until now....

  • Comment number 146.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    142 jack
    You're right. All the answers are on line, at nut bag conspiracy web sites. After all we all know about the great internet fact checker in the sky, who wont let us post anything that isn't true. Why is everyone drinking kool-aid today? Take your meds people. You may be crazy with them, but your big time crazy without them.


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