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 6.

    We need to be patient and gentle with dementia sufferers.

    All too often even close friends and family (not to mention care home workers) can become irritated, frustrated, or even aggressive with dementia patients.

    This is borne out of a lack of understanding as to how difficult it is for the individual concerned to live in the ever increasing continuous present

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    My Mother in- Law aged 91 was given a pill to slow it down, it made her worse. So she stopped taking them. She has been written off at the hospital, they don't want to see her anymore. Had a letter in writing . We don't know what to do with her. We are on our own to sort her out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Headline reads "Test 'track dementia risk'". Quote from scientist buried half way down "It's important to stress that this is not a dementia test". The way that science is reported by the media, even the BBC, remains somewhere between sensationalist and misleading at best. At worst it's, factually incorrect and irresponsiblly builds false hope. I would have exptected better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    As part of the UK Biobank cohort recruited 5 years ago and having watched my mother deteriorate and eventually die in January this year from the ravages of dementia, I can only welcome this research and will be pleased to take part. I hope that there are developments in medicine as a result which mean that future generations do not have to watch those they cherish lose their faculties and ability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    #11 berserkerphil

    It is not an issue in Less Economically Developed Countries because most of their population traditionally have not lived to an old age. As life expectancy increases, it will be a problem there too. Any study to try to open up more insight into this dreadful disease has to be welcomed.


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