Why your eyes could be the key to an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Could a trip to the eye doctor also provide a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease? New research suggests that small blood vessels in the back of the eye may reveal the disease progression in your brain—and a common eye scan can spot these changes before much damage has been done. Make sure you know these 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s.

Two new studies reported by the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggest that a type of imaging known as optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) could help medical professionals spot signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the small veins in the back of the eye. Although neurologists can use brain scans to spot the damage of Alzheimer’s, Ygal Rotenstreich, MD, an ophthalmologist at the Goldschleger Eye Institute at Sheba Medical Center in Israel, and lead researcher of one study, said in a press release, at that point “the disease is well beyond a treatable phase.” The goal of the research was to find an accurate, inexpensive test that can spot Alzheimer’s before too much damage has occurred. Check out 6 more recent breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research.

RELATED: Famous faces with Alzheimer's Disease 

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This file photo dated 04 November, 1991 shows US President Ronald Reagan giving a speech at the dedication of the library bearing his name in Simi Valley, California. He was US president from 1981 to 1989 and retreated from public life after it was revealed he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. (Photo by J. David Ake, AFP/Getty Images)
Glenn Campbell performs during The Goodbye Tour at the Ryman Auditorium on January 3, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ed Rode/Getty Images)
Picture dated 18 May 1991 of US actor Charles Bronson during the 44th Cannes film festival, southern France. Bronson died 30 August 2003 in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia. (Photo by Gerard Julien, AFP/Getty Images)
392653 01: Actor Burgess Meredith performs in the television show 'The Twilight Zone.' (Photo Courtesy of Sci Fi Channel/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 31: Actor James Doohan recieves his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame August 31, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 17: Malcolm Young of AC/DC performs on stage at Wembley Arena on January 17th, 1986 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Peter Still/Redferns)
NORMAN ROCKWELL'S AMERICA -- Pictured: Artist Norman Rockwell -- (Photo by: Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Publicity close up of Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth wearing ornately decorated gloves and holding a cigarette in a cigarette holder.
NEW YORK CITY - FEBRUARY 29: Aaron Copeland attends 10th Annual Grammy Awards on February 29, 1968 at the New York Hilton Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage) (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Peter Falk poses as he arrives for the premiere of his new film "Lakeboat" September 24, 2001 in Los Angeles. The film is an adaptation of David Mamet's comic play about a grad student who takes a summer job on a Great Lakes freighter and sees life through the eyes of his low-brow crew members. The film opens in limited release in Los Angeles September 28. REUTERS/Rose Prouser RMP/jp
Estelle Getty (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
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In the first study, researchers at Duke University used OCTA to study retinas of Alzheimer’s patients and then compared them with those of people with mild cognitive impairment, as well as healthy people. The theory is that the blood vessels in the back of the eye may mirror changes happening within the brain. The researchers found that members of the Alzheimer’s group were losing small retinal blood vessels at the back of the eye; they also found that a specific layer of the retina was thinner.

In Dr. Rotenstreich’s study, researchers did OCTA and brain scans on more than 400 people who had a family history of Alzheimer’s—but had not yet developed symptoms. They compared the images with those from people with no family history of the disease. As in the first study, Dr. Rotenstreich also found that the inner layer of the retina was thinner in people with a history of Alzheimer’s. The study also noted that the hippocampus, an area of the brain that’s first affected by the disease, had already begun to shrink. Learn about the stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

While researchers are still looking for effective ways to manage Alzheimer’s, the tools that exist now work better when the disease is in earlier stages. “We need treatment intervention sooner,” Dr. Rotenstreich said. “These patients are at such high risk.” Stop believing these 15 myths about Alzheimer’s.

RELATED: Protect your brain with these foods: 

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Eating habits to protect your brain from Alzheimer’s
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Eating habits to protect your brain from Alzheimer’s

Fill up on fewer calories

Start your meals with veggie-packed salads or soups, or use small plates to trick your brain into thinking your meals look bigger than they actually are. Filling up on fewer calories allows you to shed pounds, which can help reverse other risks for Alzheimer’s disease, including sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Cutting your daily intake of calories by 30 to 50 percent also reduces your metabolic rate and therefore slows oxidation throughout the body, including the brain. It lowers blood glucose and insulin levels, too.

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Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day

Higher vegetable consumption was associated with slower rate of cognitive decline in 3,718 people aged 65 years and older who participated in the Chicago Health and Aging Project. Study participants filled out food logs and agreed to undergo tests of their cognitive abilities periodically for six years. All of the study participants scored lower on cognitive tests at the end of the study than they did at the beginning, but those who consumed more than four daily servings of vegetables experienced a 40 percent slower decline in their abilities than people who consumed less than one daily serving. Make sure you can recognize the 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s every adult should know.

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Use spices liberally

Herbs and spices add flavor to food, allowing you to cut back on butter, oil, and salt. Because they come from plants, many herbs and spices also contain antioxidants and offer many healing benefits, including Alzheimer’s prevention. Several different studies show that curcumin, for example, helps to reduce the risk of cancer, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. Just a quarter teaspoon of the spice twice a day has been shown to reduce fasting blood sugar up to 29 percent in people with type 2 diabetes. This is important because type 2 diabetes can raise your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

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Marinate meat before cooking

When fat, protein, and sugar react with heat, certain harmful compounds form called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). They are found in particularly high levels in bacon, sausages, processed meats, and fried and grilled foods. The consumption of high amounts of AGEs has been shown to cause harmful changes in the brain. But there’s an easy way to slash your AGE consumption: Make your food (especially meats) as moist as possible. By boiling, braising, poaching, or marinating meat and fish before grilling or broiling, you allow moisture to permeate their flesh, dramatically reducing the AGEs.

Eat coldwater fish once a week

Fish that swim in cold waters tend to develop a layer of fat to keep them warm. Called omega-3 fatty acid, this type of fat has been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body when consumed by humans. In a study of 815 people, people who consumed fish at least once a week reduced their Alzheimer’s disease risk by 60 percent compared to people who rarely or never ate fish.

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Snack on nuts and seeds

In addition to being a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, nuts and seeds also provide a good dose of selenium and vitamin E, two other nutrients that may promote brain health. Walnuts may be a particularly potent source of edible brain protection. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are rich in antioxidants that have been shown to reduce Alzheimer’s disease in mice. Steer clear of these 9 habits that can seriously up your dementia risk.

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Drink several cups of tea a day

Black and green tea are rich sources of antioxidants called catechins that may fend off oxidative damage throughout the body, including the brain. Green tea is also a rich source of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to reduce beta-amyloid plaque and tau tangles in mice. Tea has also been shown to drop blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

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Enjoy coffee in the morning

Caffeine consumed too late in the day may disturb your sleep. But coffee consumed in the morning and perhaps the early afternoon, depending on your personal caffeine sensitivity, may reduce risk. Coffee contains a chemical called eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide (EHT) that, in studies done on rats, has been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. The caffeine itself may also be protective: Mice developed fewer tau tangles in their brains when their drinking water was infused with caffeine. In humans, Johns Hopkins researchers have shown that 200 milligrams of caffeine—the amount in one strong cup of coffee—can help us consolidate memories and more easily memorize new information. Don’t miss these 15 other things neurologists do to prevent Alzheimer’s.

Eat dinner with dark chocolate, not chocolate cake

Most desserts are rich in blood-sugar-spiking sugar, and recent research has linked high blood sugar levels with oxidative damage as well as an elevated production of beta-amyloid protein plaque. Chocolate, however, may be one exception. Chocolate contains antioxidant chemicals called flavonoidsprotective substances also present in many brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Baby boomers who consumed chocolate-rich drinks twice a day for three months performed as well on memory tests as did people a few decades younger. In part of the same study, tests revealed that the chocolate drinks also seemed to improve blood flow to the hippocampi regions of the brain. Here are even more everyday habits that can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.

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The post Why Your Eyes Could Be the Key to an Early Alzheimer’s Diagnosis appeared first on Reader's Digest.

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