Eye Exams May Aid in Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
In research designed to improve early detection techniques for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, scientists in Australia have discovered that certain eye tests may provide a less invasive, though effective, tool. The study, conducted by AIBL (Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle), looked for abnormalities in retinal blood vessels to determine whether there was a correlation with increased amyloid plaque in the brain, one of the commonly accepted symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
To examine the relationship between what scientists call “retinal vascular parameters (RVPs)” and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, AIBL’s researchers tested approximately 150 individuals, 25 of whom had a probable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. They took digital color photographs of the retinas of all participants, and then used software to evaluate 19 different factors, including the width of retinal blood vessels. Scientists found significant variations between those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the health participants in 13 of the 19 different measurements.
The Australian study produced results similar to those found in research led by Dr. Gilbert Feke, at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, in Boston. Feke’s research team only tested 34 people, but looked at three different groups: those with a probable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, those with some cognitive impairment, and those considered healthy. His researchers concluded that individuals with a probable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s had significantly narrower veins in their retinas than the other groups, and that the narrower veins led to restricted blood flow in the retina. The health group had the least restriction in retinal blood flow.
Researchers note that it makes great sense to examine the retina when looking for signs of Alzheimer’s. After all, says Feke, “the retina is part of the brain.”
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