Add another disease that it appears can be diagnosed early with a comprehensive eye exam, Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
In a recent study published in the journal, Ophthalmology Retina, researchers from Duke University reported that statistically significant differences can be identified in the retinas of patients with Alzheimer’s disease than those without. Results from two studies show that a new, non-invasive imaging device can see signs of Alzheimer’s disease in a matter of seconds. The researchers show that the small blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye are altered in patients with Alzheimer’s. Even patients who have a family history of Alzheimer’s but have no symptoms show these telltale signs.
A new kind of precise and non-invasive imaging called optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) has assisted much of the recent research on the eye’s connection with Alzheimer’s, enabling physicians to see the smallest veins in the back of the eye, including the red blood cells moving through the retina. Over 200 patients were examined in this study. Alongside 133 healthy control subjects, there were 39 Alzheimer’s disease subjects and 37 suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Ophthalmologist and lead author Sharon Fekrat, M.D., professor of Ophthalmology at Duke, along with colleague Dilraj Grewal M.D., associate professor of Ophthalmology at Duke, and their research team expect that their work will have a positive impact on patient’s lives.