Nov 01, 2021

New test predicts if you will develop dementia 15 years before symptoms appear

Two older men using tablet

We know that dementia is the leading cause of death among women, and only second to heart disease for men. It is responsible for about 10% of all adult deaths in Australia.

For many who have seen loved ones experience dementia, developing the condition is their worst fear.

So, if a test were available to let you know you would develop dementia up to 15 years in advance, would you want to know?

This possibility is now more than just a hypothetical question.

UK company Cognetivity Neurosciences has developed a simple, five-minute iPad-based test that can instantly and accurately predict your risk of Alzheimer’s disease up to 15 years in advance.

The ‘Integrated Cognitive Assessment’ (ICA) tool can be used to support the diagnostic process, in particular provide earlier diagnosis, and give long-term monitoring capability.

In the test, candidates are shown pictures with either an animal or no animal in them. The pictures appear for an incredibly short period – only about 100 milliseconds. The candidate must respond as quickly as they can by pressing ‘yes’ or ‘no’, depending on whether they see an animal.

James Medcalf, commercial director of Cognetivity Neurosciences, the developer of ICA, told The Daily Mail, “In evolutionary terms, spotting an animal very quickly was vital for our survival. The task involves some of the most basic structures of our brains, such as the amygdala, which helps to regulate our fight-or-flight responses.”

The technology also uses artificial intelligence to look at patterns in your responses, and matches them with clinical populations, providing you with information about your cognitive abilities.

The ICA has several advantages over traditional pen-and-paper dementia diagnosis tools, including the fact that the test only takes about five minutes to perform, the results are available immediately, and the test has a high degree of accuracy. 

The test also can’t be learnt, so repeating the test will not improve your results, and it also doesn’t have any cultural biases.

The app has been deployed by one of the leading mental health trusts in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

Dr Thomas Sawyer, CEO of Cognetivity Neurosciences, told the BBC’s Business Daily the test has been developed as “an early warning system for dementia”.

Traditional tests are “not very sensitive” to changes in cognition, he said. The very early signs of impairment are “just not detected”.

He would like to see the tool used as part of regular health checks. 

“Then it can make sure people can be identified early, when they can be helped, and have a huge impact on patients and indeed costs on healthcare systems, because late diagnosis costs billions in healthcare every year,” Dr Sawyer told the BBC.

HelloCare asked our colleagues if they would want to know they had dementia 15 years before symptoms appear, and found there were mixed feelings on the topic.

Some said they wouldn’t want to know. 

“I already know I’m at risk,” said one. “Both my parents had dementia and there’s nothing you can do about it if you have it anyway.”

But some were more optimistic. 

“Yes, I’d like to know,” said another. “There are medications and lifestyle things you can do to make it not as bad as it may have been if you left it untreated.”

What do you think? Would you like to know if you were going to develop dementia in 10-15 years’ time?

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  1. Absolutely yes. Then I could modify my lifestyle enabling a slower decline.
    Working in general practice, diagnosis and help often only comes when it’s a crisis and it’s just to late for many people. Then they end up in a nursing nome, when maybe this could have been prevented or possibly delayed. We would love to have access to this for our clients.

  2. We know that 40 percent of cases are caused by modifiable things. If we haven’t changed our habits when there is always a possibility, are we going to based on a prediction model? Not to mention, if it is “known” can you get a home loan, health insurance, life insurance – the list goes on. We should be protective of our brains anyway. What a good option though for people who would like a bit more certainty.

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