Using data from 70,000 people, who were a mixture of Alzheimer’s patients and non-patients, a team from the University of California has created a system that gives individuals ‘risk scores’ for their likelihood of getting dementia in later life.
The test looks at genetic risk factors for the disease in each person’s family history, and from this they can develop a genetic ‘fingerprint’ known as the polygenic hazard score (PHS).
Taking this individual score they combine it with other statistics on incidence rates in certain population groups, in order to accurately predict an individual’s risk factor.
These calculations, published in Plos Medicine, were then verified against two independent groups and indeed found that those they had assigned the highest (most at risk) scores to were several times more likely to get the disease than those with low scores.
The group with the highest PHS score were also found to have an earlier than expected age of onset by up to ten years.
Rahul Desikan, a researcher, explained to The Independent how this insight could be used to help people plan their future: “If you know that you are at elevated risk for this disease, you may want to make decisions on making a will, getting your finances in order, figure out when to stop driving and perhaps reprioritise your life.”
The NHS estimates that around 850,000 people in the United Kingdom have Alzheimer’s (the most common type of dementia), which manifests as a progressive neurological disease and affects multiple brain functions, including memory.