Researchers develop improved dementia screening tool

Alisha Dorrigan

31/08/2023 4:11:46 PM

The new test can more accurately predict a person’s 14-year risk of developing the disease when compared with other widely used tools.

A doctor speaking to an older patient.
A new screening tool offers improved accuracy in predicting dementia risk.

A new screening tool developed in the UK can more accurately predict a person’s risk of being diagnosed with dementia when compared with other available tools, including its Australian counterpart; the Australian National University Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Index (ANU-ADRI).
According to research published in the open access journal BMJ Mental Health, the UK Biobank Dementia Risk Score (UKBDRS) has superior predictive accuracy compared to three other commonly used tools; the ANU-ADRI, the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Ageing, and Dementia score (CAIDE), and the Dementia Risk Score (DRS).
Dementia currently affects around 50 million people globally, with this figure expected to triple over the next three decades. It is estimated that up to 40% of dementia cases are preventable and there is an increasing focus on the ability to target modifiable risk factors in an effort to reduce disease burden.
‘Screening tools are an important part of the fight against dementia,’ Dr Raihaan Patel, lead researcher from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, told newsGP.
‘We hope that future developments to our tool will improve identification of those at greater risk so they can make informed changes to their lifestyle to try and reduce that risk.’
Dr Patel’s research team used two datasets that included more than 200,000 people to develop and validate a novel 14-year dementia risk score.
The UKBDRS looks at 11 risk factors, most of them modifiable, including age, education level, economic disadvantage, family history of dementia, sex, social isolation, alongside a past medical history of diabetes, depression, stroke, hypertension or hypercholesterolaemia.

The tool can also be used in conjunction with genetic information if it is available by including APOE carrier status, a gene associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.
The research used datasets from two large longitudinal studies, the UK Biobank study and the Whitehall II study. Over a 14-year observed period, 2% of people in the UK Biobank group and 3% of people in the Whitehall II group developed dementia.
‘The importance of each risk factor varies and given that some of the factors included in the score can be modified or treated, there are things we can all do to help reduce our risk of dementia,’ co-author Associate Professor Sana Suri said.
‘While older age [60 and above] and APOE confer the greatest risk, modifiable factors, such as diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure also have a key role.
‘For example, the estimated risk for a person with all of these will be approximately three times higher than that of a person of the same age who doesn’t have any.’
The researchers acknowledge that there is probably no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to dementia screening, and while the new tool offers promise, more research is needed before it can be confidently used for the Australian population.
‘The UKBDRS was externally validated in a UK cohort, but not in other populations outside of the UK,’ Dr Patel said.
‘While the UKBDRS includes common dementia risk factors, future validation work is required before any conclusions can be made regarding generalisability outside of the UK.’
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