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Can Your Eyes Help Reveal Signs of Early Alzheimer’s?

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Alzheimer’s disease can be a nightmare, both for patients and their loved ones. It often goes undiagnosed until someone starts to experience symptoms. This late diagnosis doesn’t allow much time for getting affairs in order or seeking any potential treatments. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, early treatment can help mitigate the symptoms. A new discovery may enable doctors to diagnose the condition much earlier than ever before. As it turns out, the early signs of Alzheimer’s are in the eyes.

Traditional Diagnosis Techniques

Typically, doctors can diagnose Alzheimer’s after a series of tests, including cognition and behavioral tests, as well as lab work that can be used to rule out other possible diagnoses. Memory problems are the first and most commonly recognized symptom. Doctors may suspect Alzheimer’s just from that, but will often do multiple tests just to ensure the diagnosis is correct.

Brain scans can also be a useful tool — they help rule out other forms of damage, such as a stroke or a tumor, and can show changes in the brain structure that are often indicative of Alzheimer’s.

When it comes down to it, invasive PET scans or an autopsy after the patient has passed away are the only way to definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s.

What if you could avoid all those tests with just a simple, non-invasive eye scan?

early signs of Alzheimer's are in the eyes

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Are In The Eyes

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles may have found a way to detect Alzheimer’s long before the patient starts presenting symptoms — with nothing more than an eye scan.

One indicator of developing Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of amyloid-beta deposits. This increase in toxic proteins is likely one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. By studying the patient’s retina with a specially designed eye scanner, researchers have been able to detect the possible growth of these deposits on the eye well before the patient starts to display symptoms of memory loss or cognition failure.

Eye scans also help monitor the progress of the disease as it develops — the further along the condition, the more concentrated the amyloid-beta deposits will become.

This is also a safer and potentially less invasive diagnostic tool. PET scans, which we mentioned earlier, require an injection of radioactive tracers that make the deposits glow under the scanner. This eye scan only requires the patient to drink a solution that contains curcumin — a natural component found in turmeric. If you eat a lot of curry and other Indian food, you might already glow!

It’s Not Quite Ready — Yet

While this study is a fantastic advancement in the realm of Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it’s not quite ready for widespread use.

The study itself is considered longitudinal or conducted over a long period of time. The plan right now is to repeat both the eye scan and the PET scan in 20 months to study the change in the amyloid-beta deposits in the current study participants. They will also need to be able to replicate the same results with a variety of subjects.

This is fantastic news for anyone who might be worried about Alzheimer’s due to a genetic history of the disease or other dementia-related conditions. Eventually, this test could be as common as the retinal scans that are performed in your eye doctor’s office. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are still difficult conditions to diagnose or cure, but with this small advancement, we’re taking a step in the right direction. Early diagnosis and treatment can help mitigate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, while the great minds behind tests like this can work toward a cure.

Can Your Eyes Help Reveal Signs of Early Alzheimer’s?
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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.