A simple eye test may provide doctors with the key to early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, a study showed.
Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization in Australia reported encouraging results at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in France on Sunday, according to The Associated Press.
Ever since scientists have discovered that Alzheimer’s causes changes not only in the brain, but in the eyes as well, researchers everywhere have been trying to find an eye test that would detect the disease, early on, before brain scans were conducted.
Though brain scans did in fact aid doctors in finding evidence of the disease ten or more years before it caused major damage, they were costly and far less practical to use on a routine basis.
Eye tests would be cheaper and more convenient to use in detecting the warning signs for Alzheimer’s.
The study showcased at the conference by Australia’s national science agency compared retinal photos between 110 healthy individuals and 26 people already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or an early form of it.
Researchers found there was a significant difference in the width of the blood vessels in the retina in individuals who had Alzheimer’s or pre-Alzheimer’s compared with those who were healthy.
The differences in the width of the blood vessels also corresponded to another study unveiled at the conference displaying different levels of plaque found in brain scans among the healthy and the mentally sick.
Lead author of the retinal study, Shaun Frost, stated that the eye test would be conducted on a larger group to measure the accuracy of the findings.
Dr. Lee Goldstein of Boston University lauded the work done by the Australian scientists. He had earlier conducted studies on the eyes as well, discovering that a protein called amyloid, which makes up the brain plaque found in Alzheimer patients, could be measured in the lens of the eyes as well.
“It’s a small study” but “suggestive and encouraging,” Goldstein stated about Frost’s findings, according to AP. “My hat’s off to them for looking outside the brain for other area where we might see other evidence of the disease.”
Alzheimer’s, a disease currently without a cure, affects over 5.4 million Americans and 35 million others worldwide. Early detection of the disease can aid families in preparation and care for the patient.
“The ability to diagnose Alzheimer’s early is a key target for research,” said Rebecca Wood, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research U.K., according to Health Canal.
“Not only would early detection allow people to plan for the future, it would mean potential new treatments could be tested at the earliest stage of the disease, when they are most likely to have an effect.”