Eye Test Could Identify Patients At Risk Of Dementia Years Before Symptoms Develop

An eye test that looks specifically at the retina may be able to how if a patient will develop dementia. Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

While there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s, researchers are working tirelessly to develop new ways to increase early detection of the devastating condition. It now seems that a simple eye test may be able to inform doctors whether or not someone is developing dementia, and even track its progress years before symptoms show.

The work, carried out by neuroscientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, involves looking at the retina using a specially developed high-definition eye scan to assess whether or not the proteins thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s are present and to what degree. The researchers detailing the new technique, published in JCI Insight, hope this non-invasive method could help flag the condition earlier in patients’ lives.

They observed that amyloid-beta plaques, the proteins that are in part responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s, also build up in the retina of the eye. Critically, they found that the plaque amount found in the peripheral regions of the retina correlated with the amyloid-beta deposits in some regions of the brain.

“The findings suggest that the retina may serve as a reliable source for Alzheimer's disease diagnosis,” explains Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, who led the research. “One of the major advantages of analyzing the retina is the repeatability, which allows us to monitor patients and potentially the progression of their disease.”

This is not the only early warning sign that may help in the early detection of the disease. Another recent study identified that a difficulty in identifying smells could also be an early sign of the disease, offering another non-invasive way to track the progression of the condition.

This would allow medical professionals a cheap, easy, and reliable way to track the potential development of Alzheimer’s in at-risk patients. It would also mean that the doctors could recommend ways in which people can reduce their risk of developing the condition.

While aging is the biggest risk factor and cannot be altered, there are many things that can be done to cut the chances that you may eventually develop dementia. From keeping physically active, stopping smoking, keeping the brain active, maintaining a healthy weight, staying within the recommended alcohol limits, and eating a balanced diet, there is plenty that can be done.

Many of these are things we should be doing as a part of a healthy lifestyle anyway, but when we hit mid-life, we should seriously consider trying to hit as many of these points as possible in order to reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s onset, according to health charity Alzheimer’s Society.

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