New study hopes to identify early signs of dementia

Posted on: 27 March 2018

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin are looking to recruit 100 people to participate in a ground-breaking study, launched today, which hopes to identify the earliest signs of the dementia in mid-life, some 20-30 years before symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion, develop.

Dementia affects up to 55,000 people in Ireland and 48 million worldwide. Globally, dementia is projected to increase to 131.5 million in 2050, and its associated costs will triple to €3 trillion. Alzheimer’s disease is the commonest cause of dementia, accounting for 60-70% of all cases. No new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease have entered the market in 15 years, and no current treatments can prevent or slow down the disease process.

A new three-year research programme called Prevent aims to detect early features of the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease in people with no symptoms of the disease. The study is being carried out by researchers at the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) at Trinity, as part of a large-scale study in collaboration with Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh universities, Imperial College London in the UK and the INSERM Neuroscience, in France. In total 700 participants will be involved in Prevent. It is the first large-scale international research project which seeks to understand the disease process in people with no signs of dementia, decades before Alzheimer’s disease may develop.

The Irish research team is looking to recruit 100 adults aged between 40-59 years of age, without dementia or any form of significant cognitive difficulty, some of whom have a parent with dementia and some who have not.  Having a parent with dementia is a risk factor for developing dementia, but it does not mean an individual will get dementia themselves.

By identifying early markers for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers may be able to design and implement targeted intervention programmes to help delay, or indeed prevent the onset of dementia, explains Professor Brian Lawlor, Co-Director of GBHI and Conolly Norman Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, Trinity, who is Co-Principal Investigator on the study.

“Recent research indicates subtle changes in brain function or structure may be detectable during middle adulthood — years before the first clinical signs of dementia become apparent. We believe that mid-life may be a golden time to introduce measures to help prevent the onset of dementia. But we need to know what are the earliest signals that mean that a person is at greater risk of developing dementia if we are to intervene at this stage. The Prevent research programme hopes to identify early markers of the disease before symptoms and brain damage occurs so that we can target these individual early on with interventions that may delay the onset of the condition.”

The scientists are looking for subtle, early changes in the neurological, cognitive and brain health of individuals who have no symptoms, but are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Tests will also be carried out on individuals who have a lower risk of developing the disease based on family history. During the study, participants will be asked to provide biological samples, and complete cognitive, neurological and MRI neuroimaging assessments in the first year, and again, two years later. The testing will all happen in St James’s Hospital, and Beaumont Hospital, Dublin. Full details on what’s involved in participating in the study are available here:

Dr Lorina Naci, L’Oréal-Unesco for Women in Science International Rising Talents, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Trinity and GBHI Faculty, and Co-Principal Investigator on the study added: “The goal of the Prevent study is to develop sensitive pre-clinical biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease for early diagnosis. The use of brain imaging assessments, MRIs in particular, holds great promise for better understanding of the disease process, because they can reveal subtle changes in cognition long before behavioural manifestations, such as memory loss and confusion. A recent report by the US Alzheimer’s Association found that early diagnosis could save up to €7.9 trillion by enabling better management of the disease. Intervening in mid-life could be game-changing as it provides a unique disease-altering window, before substantial damage has occurred. The population-wide early intervention programmes that will follow this study may treat and, ultimately, prevent Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.”

Further information about the study including how to sign up to the study is available from this website: or by contacting

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