Alzheimer’s one day may be predicted during eye exam

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It may be possible in the future to screen patients for Alzheimer’s disease using an eye exam.

Using technology similar to what is found in many eye doctors’ offices, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have detected evidence suggesting Alzheimer’s in older patients who had no symptoms of the disease.

Their study, involving 30 patients, is published Aug. 23 in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

“This technique has great potential to become a screening tool that helps decide who should undergo more expensive and invasive testing for Alzheimer’s disease prior to the appearance of clinical symptoms,” said the study’s first author, Bliss E. O’Bryhim, MD, PhD, a resident physician in the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences. “Our hope is to use this technique to understand who is accumulating abnormal proteins in the brain that may lead them to develop Alzheimer’s.”

Significant brain damage from Alzheimer’s disease can occur years before any symptoms such as memory loss and cognitive decline appear. Scientists estimate that Alzheimer’s-related plaques can build up in the brain two decades before the onset of symptoms, so researchers have been looking for ways to detect the disease sooner.