The Five-Minute Test That Can Tell If You’re On the Road to Dementia

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The five-minute test that warns of dementia – years before symptoms start: There’s still no cure for the debilitating condition… so would you be brave enough to try a new method that could predict you are at risk?

Developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is many Britons’ worst fear when it comes to ageing, according to a recent survey by YouGov.

And it’s easy to see why. Outside the pandemic years, when Covid deaths slightly outnumbered dementia deaths (by 0.6 per cent), dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have been the leading cause of mortality in the UK. In care homes it’s to blame for more than 65 per cent of deaths, data from the Office for National Statistics show.

But would you want to know, more than a decade in advance, that dementia was to be your fate?

How would that devastating news change your life, especially when there may be little you can do to delay its onset and science has repeatedly failed to come up with drugs to cure — or even radically slow — its progress?

These difficult questions are no longer just hypothetical.

Developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is many Britons’ worst fear when it comes to ageing, according to a recent survey by YouGov.

In Britain, a University of Cambridge spin-off company, called Cognetivity Neurosciences, is beginning NHS trials of a simple, five-minute diagnostic test that, the firm claims, will instantly and accurately predict your risk of Alzheimer’s in up to 15 years’ time.

The timing of this is significant as Britain faces an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia owing to its ageing population. The numbers affected are forecast to jump from around 800,000 to more than 1.2 million in England and Wales by 2040.

Yet most people are only diagnosed once symptoms — such as severe memory loss, confusion, forgetting words or becoming anxious and withdrawn — start to appear.

The new test is remarkably simple, says James Medcalf, commercial director of Cognetivity Neurosciences.

‘In the test you are shown quickly — only for about 100 milliseconds — pictures that feature either an animal or no animal. You are asked to respond quickly by pressing “yes” or “no”, depending on whether you see an animal,’ he says.

‘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.’

As the test relies purely on instinctive responses, we don’t consciously learn how to perform it, so practice cannot improve a person’s scores over time.

But why is this reaction important in terms of predicting dementia risk?

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