Public want blood tests to diagnose dementia

Blood tests for diagnosing dementia would be much more acceptable than the current lumbar puncture tests, according to a new survey published today.

The findings, conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Alzheimer’s Research UK, have been published as the charity and Alzheimer’s Society begin a joint £5 million research venture to develop a blood test within the next five years.

Of the 2,522 UK adults questioned, 54% said they would be reluctant to undergo a lumbar puncture, even though it is one of the few recommended procedures for diagnosing suspected dementia in the NHS.

However, 94% said they would have a blood test if one became available, while 91% would have a PET scan.

The survey also showed a disconnect between people’s willingness to seek a dementia diagnosis and the reality of getting one in the UK.

Almost nine in ten said they would seek a diagnosis from their doctor, but figures from NHS England show that fewer than two thirds of people in England with dementia have received a formal diagnosis, the charity says.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, executive director of research and partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “A lumbar puncture is a safe and accurate method for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. But it’s an invasive technique that can come with uncomfortable side effects.

“We’re sitting on the cusp of a new era of dementia treatments, and doctors are likely going to see more people coming forward for a diagnosis. But the NHS doesn’t possess the required levels of diagnostic infrastructure to cope with this growing demand.

“Currently only 2% of people are offered advanced diagnostic tests like PET scans and lumbar punctures. Significant investment is needed to ensure the NHS has the right tools to identify people with dementia much earlier than it is currently able to.

“Low-cost tools like blood tests that are non-invasive and simpler to administer than current gold standard methods are the answer to this. But we need to move these tests out of the lab and assess their effectiveness in real world settings like the NHS.”

Recent advances have paved the way for blood tests to be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s and some are used in private clinics in Hong Kong and the USA.

To help accelerate blood tests for the NHS, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) have launched a £5 million research project, funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Nearly four in 10 people in the UK who have dementia have not received a diagnosis. We also know that those who do have a diagnosis have often waited many months, sometimes years, to receive it. This means thousands of families are stuck in limbo, trying to manage symptoms and plan for the future without access to the vital care and support that a diagnosis can bring.

“New drugs targeting early-stage Alzheimer’s disease are just around the corner, but without a diagnosis, people simply won’t be able to access them if they are approved.”

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