A simple eye exam could be all it takes to spot Alzheimer’s disease, long before you start to lose you memory according to new research out of the United Kingdom and Canada.
Two teams of scientists in the UK and Canada have revealed a new way to identify early warning signs of the disease, saying the back of your eye is a ‘window’ to your brain and it displays signs of change at the same time as the change is taking place deep within your brain circuits.
Their breakthrough raises the prospect that your optometrist will soon be checking for signs of dementia in addition to the quality of your vision.
At present, Alzheimer’s disease can only be diagnosed through expensive brain scans or by taking a fluid sample from a patient’s spinal cord.
In Australia there are more than 353,800 people living with dementia and that number is expected to rise to 400,000 within the next five years.
However, most people are diagnosed too late to do much about the condition and doctors are now eager to come up with a way to identify the disease early, so that lifestyle changes could minimise the extent of memory loss and damage.
The UK team of scientists announced they could use eye scans to measure in minute detail the thickness of a layer of neurons on the retina at the back of the eye. They say approximately 33,000 British patients aged between 40 and 69 carried out a series of tests on memory, reaction time and reasoning while the measurement was being taken, and they found that those patients with a thinner layer of neurons were more likely to perform poorly on the cognitive tests, which is a clear warning they could be undergoing the early stages of dementia.
In the second study, researchers from Canada found people with severe Alzheimer’s disease all had deposits of a protein called amyloid on their retinas. Amyloid is thought to be a key cause of Alzheimer’s disease and is often found to have formed into clumps and plaques in the brain. It is the first time however, scientists have found signs of the protein on the eye.