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Eye Test May Detect Alzheimer's Disease Before Symptoms Appear

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A person's eye health can determine the probability of Alzheimer's diagnosis in later life, according to a study by the Duke Health Center in North Carolina.

The study states that the loss of blood vessels in the retina could be an early indication of Alzheimer's disease based on research that involved 200 individuals.

Eye Health And Alzheimer's Disease

Out of the 200 people studied for the controlled research, 133 people categorized as cognitively normal showed microscopic blood vessels that form a dense web at the back of the eye inside the retina.

However, the web in the blood vessels in the retina of the 30 individuals with Alzheimer's disease was less dense and even sparse in places, according to the study.

The study suggests that since the retina is an extension of the brain, it is likely that changes in the blood vessel density in the retina could reflect what is happening to the blood vessels in the brain.

It also showed that cognitively normal and healthy people do not have changes in their retina as compared to people with Alzheimer's disease.

Retinal Scan Using Noninvasive Technology

The objective of the research is to determine whether the changes that occur in the brain of a person with Alzheimer's could be detected in the retina even before symptoms, and memory loss can occur.

This study can help in the early detection of Alzheimer's for people who have a genetic risk but don't manifest symptoms.

Through a noninvasive technology called optical coherence tomography angiography or OCTA, the OCTA machine uses light waves to view even the smallest capillaries in all layers of the retina. This thorough scanning of the retina can reveal the blood flow and changes inside it.

"We're measuring blood vessels that can't be seen during a regular eye exam and we're doing that with relatively new noninvasive technology that takes high-resolution images of very small blood vessels within the retina in just a few minutes," according to Sharon Fekrat, M.D., Duke ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon, and the study's senior author.

Elderly siblings Scott Hughes and her identical twin sister Virginia were among the subjects of the research. Scott is cognitively normal while Virginia has Alzheimer's.

The scan of Virginia's eyes showed that she had significantly decreased blood vessel density in the retina. She passed away 14 months ago.

Living With Alzheimer's

According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and an estimate of 5.8 million Americans are living with the disease.

From 2000 to 2017, deaths due to the cognitive disease increased by 145 percent.

Getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising can help prevent the development of Alzheimer's according to previous research.

The study is published in the journal Ophthalmology Retina. 

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