New Research Suggests A Simple Eye Test Could Be Used To Identify Alzheimer's

The eyes could reveal the condition even if people aren't showing other symptoms.

An exciting new study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, suggests that a simple eye test could be used to screen people for Alzheimer's disease.

The study, which was published in the JAMA Ophthalmology journal on August 23, utilized similar technology typically found in eye doctors' offices, according to Science Daily. Thirty seniors participated in the study who had no symptoms of Alzheimer's. Researchers looked for "retinal microvascular abnormalities" and "architectural alterations" which have been seen in early stages of the disease.

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The study found evidence suggesting that Alzheimer's could be detected in older patients through the eye exam.

Other tests were conducted on the patients including brain scans. The findings revealed a correlation between Alzheimer's proteins in the brain and damage to the optic nerve and thinning of the retinas. Such deterioration of the eyes was previously noted in people who had passed away from Alzheimer's. 

Such a simple test for detection is particularly exciting given that Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia and affects 5.4 million people in the United States alone. What's more, Alzheimer disease testing is costly and invasive. So, if we were able to use an eye test to help identify the disease, it could make a substantial difference.

Scientific evidence has shown that Alzheimer's and dementia can be found in the brain up to two decades before symptoms become obvious. An eye test such as this could lead to earlier diagnoses. 

"This technique has great potential to become a screening tool that helps decide who should undergo more expensive and invasive testing for Alzheimer's disease prior to the appearance of clinical symptoms."

The study's first author, Bliss Elizabeth O'Bryhim, MD, PhD, a resident physician in the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, stated, "Our hope is to use this technique to understand who is accumulating abnormal proteins in the brain that may lead them to develop Alzheimer's."

Researches say longer studies with larger groups of people will need to be done in order to "determine the value of identifying preclicinal AD [Alzheimer disease]."

That said, the study is a breakthrough for the link between eye tests and Alzheimer's and it's something that others are also currently exploring. CTV reports that a team of Canadian researchers are conducting clinical trials of another type of retinal examination in the hopes that it will be able to detect Alzheimer's.  

(H/T: Mashable)

Cover image via Photographee.eu I Shutterstock

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