Study finds eye test may spot Alzheimer’s before symptoms appear

Henrietta Strickland
March 12, 2019

And they showed that they can distinguish between people with Alzheimer's and those with only mild cognitive impairment.

It comes as a separate large study added to evidence that exercise, a good diet and giving up smoking could be important in staving off Alzheimer's. Their study was published online today in Ophthalmology Retina, a journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The test involves looking at blood vessels in the retina, but isn't something that now takes place as part of a normal eye test. The test involved a machine that performed optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA), a non-invasive procedure that only takes a few minutes. After controlling for other factors, the researchers found this change to be statistically significant. More than 500,000 people in Britain suffer from Alzheimer's and the total is rising, but most are diagnosed too late to do anything about it.

For the study, scientists used Octa to compare the retinas of 39 Alzheimer's patients, 37 people with mild cognitive impairment, and 133 healthy individuals with normally functioning brains.

They stressed that while they have proved that blood vessels become sparser in those with Alzheimer's, the next step is to show this happens before memory problems appear, which would give doctors a way to diagnose the condition years in advance. By the time these changes are noticed, the disease is advanced. However, new research may have found the next breakthrough in pinpointing early signs of the disease, no pain or inconvenience required.

This correlation could mean big things for the future of Alzheimer's diagnoses.

Ophthalmologist and senior author Sharon Fekrat, M.D., Professor of Ophthalmology at Duke, along with lead author Dilraj Grewal, M.D., Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Duke, expect that their work may one day have a positive impact on patients' lives. That appearance signifies a healthy brain, but in cases of Alzheimer's disease, the blood vessels appear different.

But US scientists at the Duke Eye Centre in North Carolina wondered if changes might also be visible in the retina, which is an extension of the brain and so could offer a window into what is happening behind the skull.

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