Could a Simple Eye Exam Soon Detect Early Signs Of Alzheimer’s?

Eying to prevent a destructive disease


(Olena Yakobchuk /

Imagine if a non-invasive, early diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease was seconds away. New research says that a routine eye exam could show onsets when medications are at their most effective.

It could also give patients room to begin changing their lifestyle (eating more healthfully, exercising on a more regular basis) to further slow down the disease or even cut the risk in half for those who are at risk.

The eye test looks for in the retina for changes in blood vessels. Scientists say that, small alterations in the tissue mirror what’s occurring in the brain and indicate the first signs of dementia. The method itself - named Octa (optical coherence tomography angiography) - could even change the way we treat the horrific condition.

The study compared the retinas of healthy patients with those who have the neurological disorder. The Alzheimer’s group had fewer small retinal blood vessels at the back of the eye, and one of the retina’s layers was also significantly thinner.

More than 350 participants were involved to see whether the study’s findings would allow for large strides for Alzheimer’s research. Octa has already improved physicians’ ability to see blood vessels in the back of the eye, an advancement that could make a huge difference in early detection and combat the disease, instead of mitigating the symptoms.

Senior author Professor Sharon Fekrat, an ophthalmologist at the Duke Eye Centre in Durham, North Carolina, said that this offers “a window into the disease process.”

As there’s currently no cure for the devastating disease, the focus is mainly on prevention, though if not caught in time, the disease takes hold completely.

The technique also increases the patient’s quality of life in other ways: they’d have more time to spend with their family, plan for the future, and live more days with full functionalities.

Prof Fekrat and lead author Prof Dilraj Grewal, believe their research will eventually benefit patients a great deal.

“Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is a huge unmet need...Our work is not done.” We need to detect the disease earlier and introduce treatments earlier,” Fekrat said.

Still, though we have a long way to go, the developments are a promising start to giving millions of people their lives back.

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