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Could an eye test detect Alzheimer’s?

21 August 2012

Could an eye test detect Alzheimer’s?

With the knowledge that Alzheimer’s can cause changes in the eye and the way the patient sees the world, researchers in Australia have developed a simple eye test which could help to detect signs of the disease.
Currently brain scans can be used to detect the onset of dementia years before it even starts but it is too impractical and expensive. A simple eye test could be the answer to testing for the condition early on with minimal inconvenience.

The study involved taking photographs of blood vessels in the retina. The photos of 110 healthy people were compared to those of 13 people with Alzheimer’s and 13 with other forms of cognitive impairment. Researchers found a difference in the width of the blood cells which matched the amount of difference in plaque seen on brain scans.

Dr. Lee Goldstein of Boston University said, “It’s a small study but suggestive and encouraging. My hat’s off to them for looking outside the brain for other areas where we might see other evidence of this disease.”

“Eye doctors often are the first to see patients with signs of Alzheimer’s, which can start with vision changes, not just the memory problems the disease is most known for”, said Dr. Ronald Petersen, a Mayo Clinic dementia expert with no role in the new studies.

Not only may we be able to use an eye test to detect the disease, once more research has been conducted, there are also several other ways to detect it based on vision. People who are developing Alzheimer’s can suffer from an inability to perceive depth, a shrinking peripheral vision, a need for a high colour contrast between objects in order to see them clearly, needing brighter lighting, trouble with glare and shadows, need for simplicity, for example one object at a time, and a right eye preference.

If this test can be developed further it may mean another way to detect Alzheimer’s in the early stages, meaning families have more time to plan for the changes.