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.

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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.

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