As well as collecting information on participants’ health and disease diagnoses, UK Biobank collected data from a battery of tests including problem-solving, memory, reaction times, and grip strength, as well as data on weight loss and gain and on the number of falls. This allowed them to look back to see whether any signs were present at baseline – that is, when measurements were first collected from participants (between five and nine years prior to diagnosis).
People who went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease scored more poorly compared to healthy individuals when it came to problem-solving tasks, reaction times, remembering lists of numbers, prospective memory (our ability to remember to do something later on), and pair matching. This was also the case for people who developed a rarer form of dementia known as frontotemporal dementia.
People who went on to develop Alzheimer’s were more likely than healthy adults to have had a fall in the previous 12 months. Those patients who went on to develop a rare neurological condition known as progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), which affects balance, were more than twice as likely as healthy individuals to have had a fall.
For every condition studied – including Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies – patients reported poorer overall health at baseline.
Paper: “Pre-diagnostic cognitive and functional impairment in multiple sporadic neurodegenerative diseases” by Nol Swaddiwudhipong, David J. Whiteside, Frank H. Hezemans, Duncan Street, James B. Rowe and Timothy Rittman, 12 October 2022, Alzheimer’s & Dementia .