Improvements and progress in ophthalmic(eye) examination technology may one day help doctors diagnose people with Alzheimers long before symptoms appear, researchers said yesterday.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Opthalmology reveals that half of the 70-year-old patients without symptoms who underwent scanning tests or spinal fluid analysis recorded levels of Alzheimer’s proteins.
Approximately half of them had elevated levels of amyloid or tau, Alzheimer’s proteins, suggesting that eventually, they could develop dementia.
The type of technology used in the JAMA study is called optical coherence tomography angiography (OCT-A). It is commonly used to illuminate the eye so that the doctor can measure the thickness of the retina and the optic nerve.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the accumulation of plaques of beta-amyloid protein in the brain plaques that can reach disrupt connections that occur in the hippocampus that is, the brain area responsible for the accumulation of memories.
“In patients with high levels of amyloid or tau, we detected a significant thinning in the center of the retina,” said Rajendra Apte, one of the researchers and Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Washington in St. Louis.
We all have a small area devoid of blood vessels in the center of our retinas, which is responsible for our more accurate vision. They discover that this area lacking blood vessels was significantly expanded in people with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
However, the study did not reveal whether participants with thinner retinas developed Alzheimer’s or not. Currently, doctors use PET scans and lumbar punctures to help diagnose Alzheimers, both costly and invasive techniques.
One of the recent researches also shows that simple cognitive exercises and similar brain training apps can help prevent memory-related diseases like Alzheimers.
Experts say that brain damage from Alzheimer’s disease can start up to two decades before signs of memory loss appear. About 50 million people live with dementia worldwide, and the number is expected to increase in the coming decades as the population ages.