Thousands of UK Biobank participants are taking part in one of the biggest surveys ever to study brain activity and how it changes as we age.
The series of memory and reasoning tests will help scientists studying dementia and other disorders of the brain.
UK Biobank participants have already provided a wide range of health and life-style information, and genetic analysis of their blood samples is currently underway. A feasibility study to see if it is possible to scan 100,000 participants is also taking place in the north west of England.
“The beauty of UK Biobank is that it lets us study the causes of diseases on a large number of fronts, and to see how different risk factors interact in different ways,” said Professor John Gallacher from Cardiff University who has developed the survey. “There are likely to be genetic and lifestyle components in dementia; this study will help us unravel those risk factors and help us delay, prevent and perhaps better treat the disease.”
The online memory tests take about 20 minutes and the results will be compared with data collected during participants’ initial assessment visit, now several years ago.
Changes in the brain happen years before the onset of illnesses like dementia. The questionnaire is not a ‘dementia test’, but if it were possible to delay the onset of dementia by just five years it would halve the number of people with the condition.
“A reduction in brain activity is a normal part of the ageing process; we all begin to suffer from it,” said Professor Gallacher. “In some people it may be more pronounced than others and we’d like to find out whether this is a warning light for future disease and whether we can slow or reverse the process.”
He added: “I am really grateful to participants providing us with the information to do this. The digital world is allowing us to learn from members of the public in new ways and their contribution is hugely appreciated.”
The UK Biobank cognitive function questionnaire featured on the BBC recently: Mass memory and reasoning tests ‘track dementia risk’