Screening for Alzheimer’s — with an Eye Exam?!

eye test Alzheimer'sThe eyes have long been known as windows to the soul; new research shows they may be windows to the brain, particularly the Alzheimer’s brain, as well.

Today, testing for Alzheimer’s relies on a clinical exam of mental ability; only postmortem examination can conclusively diagnose the presence of Alzheimer’s Disease. Moreover, clinical exams of mental ability are commonly done only when symptoms appear, which may be many years after the disease process has begun.

Bill Gates recently pledged $50 million to find a definitive test for Alzheimer’s that
can help patients, particularly in the early stages, when more can be done to slow the progression of the disease. (See our blog post about Gates’s initiative, here.) In particular, the Diagnostics Accelerator he founded is looking to fund innovative and noninvasive tests that can be implemented in the near-term.

Sound like a dream? Maybe not.

A study published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association Ophthalmology offers hope that Gates’s quest may yield results soon — with an
eye exam.

Researchers at Washington University used optical coherence tomography (OCT) to examine the retinas of older adults who showed no sign of Alzheimer’s. The research participants also agreed to spinal taps, which puncture the cerebrospinal fluid, and PET scans. Half the participants had unusually high amyloid and tau protein counts, which predict the eventual onset of Alzheimer’s. That group also had thinning of the retina,
an abnormality that has been noted in autopsies of Alzheimer’s patients.

Does this mean that your eye doctor can test you for Alzheimer’s? Not quite. Many older people have thinning retinas.

The researchers added a device to the traditional OCT. This new device gave them information not available in a traditional OCT. it allowed them to view blood flow in the retina, as well as the shape of the center of the retina, an area without blood vessels.

The researchers found that study participants who had thinning retinas and elevated levels of amyloid and tau proteins also had central retina enlargement. The researchers posit that enlargement of the central retina may predict eventual onset of Alzheimer’s, long before symptoms appear.

This study is the first to use this procedure, and will need to be verified. When the researchers look for funding for further studies, it is quite likely that Bill Gates will be there.

While the study offers hope for the future, those suffering the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s right now can find hope at the Memory Care Unit of Atlantic Coast Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Lakewood, NJ.

Our caregivers are specially trained in providing care for those suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other cognitive disorders. With special programming and innovative therapies, such as audiovisual and aromatherapy, we help our residents maximize their cognitive function, increase their social interaction,  and boost their appreciation of
the life they have.

If your loved one are in need of the special care we can provide, please contact us at
732-364-7100, or by clicking here.

Leave a Comment