Eye tests could help spot dementia, research suggests

Dementia common in U.S.

By Mary Claire Patton - Digital Content Curator

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Dementia could be spotted years before its onset with simple eye tests according to new research.

Participants, aged 40-69, were given memory, reasoning and reaction time tests.

Researchers then measured the thickness of the retinal nerve fiber layer and found a strong correlation between poor performance on the tests and a thin RNFL.

“Changes in the brain associated with dementia can begin several years before any memory symptoms appear. This research suggests changes happen in the retina of the eye too, which could give us a relatively easy, non-invasive way to spot them early,” Dr. Clare Walton, research manager at Alzheimer’s Society said.

Amyloid protein, found in the brains of people Alzheimer’s disease, can also accumulate in the retina.

Checking for amyloid buildup might determine whether a person has or is developing Alzheimer’s disease, as well.

“Eye tests are fairly common for older people, so there is great potential to incorporate additional tests into their regular check-up. These tests could help to identify people at risk of dementia who would benefit from further investigation but will not become a primary way to diagnosis the condition,” Walton said.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and there is currently no known cure.

People with Alzheimer’s disease may experience cognitive difficulty, mood swings and behavioral changes.

“While this study did not look at changes in people with dementia, it does show that thinning of a layer of cells in the retina is associated with reduced cognitive performance,” Dr. Simon Ridley, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said.

"Further work is required to see whether thinning of the retinal nerve fiber layer is predictive of cognitive decline and dementia, to assess better whether nerve cell loss in the eye could be a potential early marker of the condition,” Ridley concluded. 

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