Eye Scan May Detect Alzheimer's Earlier

An Eye Doctor may help diagnose Alzheimer’s before its symptoms

An Eye Doctor may help diagnose Alzheimer’s before its symptoms

A study at Duke Eye Center may have found a suitable method, however, and it involves small blood vessels in the retina.

The research was supported by National Institutes of Health (P30EY005722), the 2018 Unrestricted Grant from Research to Prevent Blindness, and the Karen L. Wrenn Alzheimer's Disease Award. 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. This latest research is the largest study to date and adds to the current literature as scientists strive to find a quick, noninvasive, and cheap way to detect Alzheimer's at the earliest stages.

The findings were published online in the journal Ophthalmology Retina.

With Alzheimer's disease changes occur in small blood vessels in the brain, and the retina is an extension of the brain, the team investigated whether these changes could be detected in the retina using a less invasive technology that is easy to obtain. After controlling for other factors, the researchers found this change to be statistically significant.

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For their study, researchers used OCTA to compare the retinas of 39 Alzheimer's patients with 37 people with mild cognitive impairment, and 133 cognitively healthy people.

The typical process for diagnosing Alzheimer's isn't a fun one. Such techniques to study the brain are invasive and costly. Instead, the disease is often diagnosed through memory tests or observing behavioral changes. Even though there is now no cure, early diagnosis will allow researchers to study new medications earlier as future treatments may be more effective when given early.

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

Now the only ways to definitively diagnose Alzheimer's are through expensive brain scans or by taking a fluid sample from the patient's spinal cord. "It's possible that these changes in blood vessel density in the retina could mirror what's going on in the tiny blood vessels in the brain, perhaps before we are able to detect any changes in cognition". Some of the changes detected were in capillaries or blood vessels that measured less than the width of a human hair he explained.

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