When we look in the mirror, wrinkles and grey hairs reveal how quickly we're ageing on the outside, but how can we tell the speed with which we're ageing on the inside?
Doctors are developing a test which will reveal our "brain age" by asking a series of lifestyle questions about fitness, drinking, smoking, weight and cholesterol.
These lifestyle factors can increase the risk of dementia later in life.
The new tool to calculate how many brain cells we're losing and how rapidly is being developed by Public Health England (PHE). It's designed to encourage us to engage with healthy habits before it's too late.
The computer-based test will be piloted by GPs and offered to middle-aged patients.
Speaking to The Guardian, Charles Alessi, PHE lead on dementia, said the scheme was voluntary.
“We already perform health checks and this extends what we are doing. We are not talking about screening and we are not compelling people to take the test,” he said.
“We are offering people an opportunity to know exactly how risk factors can influence the rate of decline of their cognitive functions. Dementia is a whole group of conditions and we can manage some of the risks.
A similar test has already been developed by Dr Vincent Fortanasce, clinical professor of neurology at the University of Southern California. It can't diagnose dementia, but it claims to give you a good indication of your "brain age".
Answer each question either Yes or No
1. get seven or more hours of sleep each night.
2. I eat at least five or more servings of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants (citrus fruits, green peppers, spinach, broccoli, apples, tomatoes, kale) daily.
3. I eat at least one serving of blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries daily.
4. I eat baked or grilled fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon and mackerel) at least three times a week.
5. I take fish oil supplements high in omega-3 fatty acids or flaxseed supplements at least five times per week.
6. I take folic acid supplementation with my daily multivitamin.
7. I take a low-dose of aspirin, which studies suggest might slow brain decline by maintaining bloodflow to the brain, daily.
8. I drink red wine or grape juice at least five times a week.
9. I exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes each time.
10. I read challenging books, do crossword puzzles or Sudoku, or engage in activities that require active learning,
memorization, computation, analysis, and problem solving at least five times a week.
11. My total cholesterol is less than 5 millimoles per litre (mmol/l).
12. My LDL (“bad”) cholesterol – that causes disease in arteries and reduces blood-flow to the brain - is less than 3mmol/l (your GP or practice nurse can carry out a cholesterol test and will take a blood sample either with a syringe or by pricking your finger).
13. I have “longevity genes” in my family, with members who lived to 80 and older without memory loss.
14. I am not obese (less than 1st4lbs overweight for a woman; less than 2st1lb overweight for a man).
15. I eat a Mediterranean style diet (high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, and olive oil as the source of fat; little red meat).
16. I use olive oil and no trans-fat spreads instead of butter or margarine.
17. I have never smoked cigarettes.
18. I have normal blood pressure.
19. I do not have diabetes.
20. I do not have metabolic syndrome (the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity).
21. I do not have a sleep disorder such as snoring or obstructive sleep apnoea or untreated insomnia.
22. Daily uncontrolled stress is not a problem for me.
23. I have a strong support group and enjoy many activities with friends, colleagues, and family members.
24. I have no problems with short- or long-term memory.
25. I’m ready to prevent Alzheimer’s and will do whatever it takes.
Count how many of the 25 statements you marked ‘Yes’ and write down your score.
23–25 Subtract 15 years from your chronological age for your Real Brain Age. Unless things change, your risk is extremely low.
20–22 Subtract 10 years from your chronological age for your Real Brain Age. You are doing a lot to take care of your physical and mental health. Pay attention to those questions you marked ‘No’ to see what changes you need to make.
15-19 Your Real Brain Age is the same as your chronological age. You could be at risk of developing dementia and should pay attention to questions you answered ‘No’ to and make changes.
12–14 Add five years to your chronological age for your Real Brain Age. With this disparity between your Real Brain Age and chronological age, you could have increased the chances of dementia. Review your answers and where needs work, and visit your GP to discuss the results.
0–11 Add 10 years to your chronological age for your Real Brain Age. Get in touch with your doctor to discuss health problems you have and what you can do to manage any problems.