Could Future Alzheimer’s be Predicted by an Eye Exam?

Could Future Alzheimer’s be Predicted by an Eye Exam?

Two important breakthroughs from different parts of the world have recently been announced in Alzheimer’s research: 1. Brain changes can be detected years before the cognitive changes start and 2.  Since the cells on the back of the eye are an extension of brain tissue, some of the changes may become detectable with an eye exam.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes dementia and it is estimated to affect around 5.4 million Americans. Researchers have been following an extended family in Colombia where about every third family member has Alzheimer’s disease.  They have found brain changes in their young adult years, long before obvious cognitive changes are seen.  These results were recently published in Lancet Neurology.

Researchers at the University College London are experimenting with an eye drop that highlights cells damaged by the disease.  The highlighted cells could then be detected with an eye exam up to 20 years before the development of dementia.  Researchers in Australia are using pictures of the back of the eye and then using computer analysis to determine whether pre-Alzheimer’s changes are present.

Both of these methods, if further developed and proven have the potential to allow an easier detection of Alzheimer disease many years before problems become impactful.  These findings are encouraging.  They would allow better testing of preventative therapies prior to the development of extensive damage.  The findings also raise certain ethical and emotional questions like, would you really want to know if no cure has been developed?

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