A quick, easy scan can reveal your dementia risk

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Late-life dementia is becoming increasingly common in people after 80 years of age.

It develops when brain cells are damaged from several diseases, some of which cause the narrowing of the blood vessels to the brain.

In a study from Edith Cowan University and elsewhere, scientists found a simple and common scan can reveal if people are at increased risk of developing the condition late in life.

They discovered an important link between vascular health and late-life dementia.

This link is calcification of the plaques which can build up within the abdominal aorta, which is the largest artery in the body and supplies oxygenated blood from the heart to the abdominal organs and lower limbs.

This calcium build-up—known as “abdominal aortic calcification,” or AAC—can be very useful to predict cardiovascular disease risk such as heart attack and stroke.

But researchers have now found it is also a reliable marker for late-life dementia.

In the study, the team examined the AAC results in 968 women from the late 1990s, and then followed their health status for over 15 years.

They found one in two older women had medium to high levels of AAC, and these women were twice as likely to be hospitalized or die from late-life dementia—independent of other heart factors or genetic factors.

Conveniently, AAC can be easily detected using lateral spine scans from bone density machines.

These machines are common, with some 600,000 bone density tests performed each year in Australia to screen for osteoporosis.

The team says an additional scan capturing lateral spine images can be performed when people undergo standard bone density tests.

It’s generally very quick and easy to capture these scans and they are less-invasive, cheaper and miniscule in radiation exposure compared to X-rays or CT scans.

It means these scans may be a cheap, rapid and safe way to screen a large number of susceptible older Australians for higher late-life dementia risk.

The team says incorporating dementia risk into discussions surrounding cardiovascular health could see people make necessary lifestyle changes.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and scientists find drug to treat Lewy body dementia.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and common high blood pressure drug may treat vascular dementia.

The study was conducted by Professor Simon Laws et al and published in The Lancet Regional Health—Western Pacific.

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