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Signs of Alzheimer’s as thousands to trial new blood test for dementia

Blood test for Alzheimer's
Nationwide blood test trials hope to improve the Alzheimer’s diagnosis rate. (Getty Images)

Thousands of Brits worried about their memory are to trial a new blood test for dementia that doctors hope will revolutionise the diagnosis for Alzheimer's disease.

It is hoped the measure could make diagnosis more accessible, with just 2% currently able to access tests like PET scans or lumbar punctures.

University College London and Oxford University will lead the trials to research the cheap tests for proteins in people with early stages of dementia and those who have mild or progressive problems with memory.

The tests, which look for proteins linked to Alzheimer’s and other dementias, have proven highly effective in research settings, with scientists now hoping to highlight their use in the real world, with the hope they could be offered routinely on the NHS.

The hope is the tests could could provide results to patients much sooner and accelerate the introduction of new Alzheimer’s drugs that rely on early diagnosis

"Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer, yet a third of people living with dementia don’t have a diagnosis, which means they’re not able to access care and support," explains Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society.

"At the moment, only 2% of people with dementia can access the specialised tests needed to demonstrate eligibility for new treatments, leading to unnecessary delays, worry and uncertainty."

More than 940,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. (Getty Images)
More than 940,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. (Getty Images)

Carragher says the new tests could be part of the answer to the problem.

"They’re quick, easy to administer and cheaper than current, more complex tests. I’ve spent decades working in research and the NHS and, after years of slow progress, it feels like we’re on the cusp of a new chapter on how we treat dementia in this country.”

Jonathan Schott, chief medical officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, will lead a trial on the most promising blood biomarker in tests on 1,100 people across the UK.

His University College London (UCL) team will focus on the most promising biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease, called p-tau217, which can indicate levels of amyloid and tau in the brain.

Its trial will see if measuring p-tau217 in the blood can increase the rate of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease in people with early dementia, but also those with mild but progressive memory problems.

The second trial, headed by Dr Vanessa Raymont, from Oxford University, will cover new and existing blood tests on nearly 4,000 people, testing multiple forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Mature woman touching forehead with pensive expression.
Struggling with memory issues is one of the signs of Alzheimer's. (Getty Images)

What is dementia?

Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain function, according to the NHS. The condition can affect memory, as well as the way you speak, think, feel and behave.

There are many different types, with many different causes, and it is not a natural part of ageing.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in the UK. It is a progressive condition, meaning symptoms develop gradually over many years, slowly becoming more severe.

The exact cause isn't yet fully understood, though factors that can potentially increase your risk include age, a family history, untreated depression and lifestyle factors associated with cardiovascular disease.

More than 944,000 people in the UK have dementia, a figure expected to rise to more than a million by 2030.

Nurse caring for woman with dementia. (Getty Images)
Doctors hope the new tests will enable dementia patients to access help more quickly. (Getty Images)

Signs and symptoms of dementia

As there are many different types of dementia each person experiences the disease in their own individual way.

However, according to Alzheimer's Society there are some common early signs and symptoms of dementia. These include:

  • Memory loss – for example, problems recalling things that happened recently

  • Difficulty concentrating, planning or organising – for example, struggling to make decisions, solve problems or follow a series of steps (such as cooking a meal)

  • Problems with language and communication - including difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something

  • Misunderstanding what is being seen – this could include problems judging distances (such as on stairs) or perceiving the edges of objects, and misinterpreting patterns or reflections

  • Being confused about time or place – for example, losing track of the time or date, or becoming confused about where they are

  • Mood changes or difficulty controlling emotions – for example, becoming unusually anxious, irritable, sad or frightened, losing interest in things and personality changes

As a person’s dementia progresses they are likely to experience additional symptoms including:

  • Aggressive behaviour – as a person’s dementia progresses, they may sometimes behave in ways that are physically or verbally aggressive

  • Walking about - This includes increasingly wandering around at home or leaving the house during the day or night

  • Lack of insight - when a person with dementia is unable to recognise changes in their behaviour and emotions

  • Sleep problems – As well as disruption to their body clock, a person with dementia may sleep more in the day and have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep at night

  • Delusions – strongly believing something that is false

Alzheimer’s Society urges anyone worried about themselves or someone they love to take the first step and contact the charity for support.

Support and more information about a diagnosis is just a phone call or a click away. Visit alzheimers.org.uk/memoryloss or call 0333 150 3456.

See the checklist for possible dementia symptoms in full.

Additional reporting PA.

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