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 24.

    BioBank is a new one on me, even though I follow health and nutrition quite closely. If they publicised it more, we could have a much larger study of several million willing volunteers rather than a third of a million.

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    No western government wants to really tackle this because the truth will out and it'll cost trillions.
    Food and Water companies have been "poisoning" the populace for years. Perhaps the chemicals make the food taste better or last longer or the water drinkable, but what else does it do to us?
    Name a 3rd world country with this kind of problem on the scale 1st world countries have this disease.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The better we get at curing diseases the longer we live, and the longer we live the more likely we are to go down with dementia. That's not to say that nothing can be done to reduce the problem or cope better with its consequences - but it does put the rising incidence into perspective.

  • Comment number 20.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    @14. Refined sugar is hugely addictive and damaging especially to the brain and if not a cause is certainly an antagonizer of dementia.

  • Comment number 18.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Well, A third of a million sounds so much more dramatic than 333k doesn't it? Shame on the usual News dramatisation. BUT good for the survey.
    Good to hear a mass survey is taking place for this widely common concern.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    We definitely need more research into dementia , which is a big challenge for sufferers, carers, families and society. A huge number of people are suffering from dementia, and any research that can help to reduce the number of people developing dementia is welcome.

  • 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 14.

    I'm not a scientist, however read journals and papers and follow science in general. I would like to make a speculation that the amount of refine sugars and processed food ( usually with added sugar, such as reformed ham) plays a role with the increasing dementia sufferers. I'm glad there is a massive study taking place, perhaps this will reveal a bigger insight into why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    ok I got the test in advance . . you take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000 . Now add 30 . Add another 1000 . Now add 20 . Now add another 1000 . Now add 10 . What is the total? If what you think is the answer is different to what your calculator says . . . you have a big problem. . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I hope they remember to test members of both houses of Parliament because they all have obvious signs of dementia as well as many other illnesses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    First 3 posts are trolls.

    My father dies last year from Vascular Dementia and both my Inlaws suffer and are in their last stages so I think I'm qualified to say that it's about time the Government (whichever colour) starts to take this disease seriously.
    I have said for years it is something in our food or water causing this because it is NOT an issue in third world countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Don't you love the statement in "what is the test like?' i.e. you may remember.....! If you don' might have it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    i 'm a participant in uK biobank, but I'm not sure I want to continue. I'm not bothered about the confidentiality aspect especially. I rather object however to being taken for granted by medics in search of big research grants who treat me as an object to be studied. No opportunity for feedback, no interest in my opinion. I'm a social scientist. I couldn't get away with this. Why can they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

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

    If only this outlook was common for the prosperous sustainability of our country & planet then such a positive future would surely also help stress, depressions & anxieties which may also be a factor of dementia & also the necessity for so much escapism, whether alcohol, food, drugs or gogglebox eyes

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    We must hope that the putative cognitive changes preceding dementia do not impact one's willingness to undertake a dementia test...

  • 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 5.

    Good Idea, but don't you think it's all the chemicals they put in food that attacks the brain.You are what you eat.


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