Examining eye structure may help detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease

April 4, 2014
New research suggests variations in eye structure are linked to Alzheimer’s disease

According to new research, searching for variations in eye structure may help detect early-stage Alzheimer's disease. In the future, doctors of optometrys may have a role to play in early diagnosis.

Researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute examined both animal models and postmortem human retinas from donors with Alzheimer's disease. Using high-resolution, microscopic imaging and visual acuity measurements, they were able to monitor tissue degeneration and decline in visual function. Both are strongly associated with Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers found abnormalities, including changes in the retinal pigment epithelial layer, which harbors supportive cells located in the back of the eye, and in the thickness of the choroidal layer, which has blood vessels that provide nutrients to the retina.

The greater the abnormality, the greater the chance of the patient having Alzheimer's disease, noted study co-author Alexander Ljubimov, Ph.D.

Doctors of optometry help identify chronic illnesses

Doctors of optometrys already play a critical role—through routine eye examinations—in identifying chronic illnesses in their patients, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis and cancer. Alzheimer's disease could one day be added to the list.

Currently, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, making it the 6th-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Lori Grover, O.D., Ph.D., the American Public Health Association's Vision Care Section (VCS) Council member, believes the new study presents the potential promise that, in the future, doctors of optometrys could gather important diagnostic and treatment information regarding Alzheimer's disease. Best of all, it could be done in a noninvasive fashion.

"Although it will take more research and time to find out if this promise is realized, it is exciting to think of the possibility of helping our patients with or at risk of Alzheimer's and their health care teams and their families earlier in the course of the disease," Dr. Grover says.

Alzheimer's can't be prevented or cured. However, early detection helps optimize medical treatment and allows patients to plan and make decisions for the future.

Related News

Doctors of optometry and camp health professionals offer tips for a safe summer

About 14 million children and adults attend camps annually in the U.S. What can parents do to help keep their campers happy? Camp health professionals and doctors of optometry advise.

The heat is on: Ensure patients’ protective eyewear is, too

Some doctors of optometry may see an increase in patients seeking care during the summer months, whether they’re playing sports or battling dry air conditions. Be prepared to share your expertise.

Lutein, zeaxanthin reaffirmed over beta-carotene in AREDS2

Staple ingredients of the AREDS formulation deemed safe in follow-on study.