Eye Tests Can Diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease Before Onset of Symptoms

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An Afghan Refugee has Her Eyes Tested at a Health Clinic Set Up by the UNHCR to Mark World Refugee Day in Islamabad
An Afghan refugee has her eyes tested at a health clinic set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to mark World Refugee Day in Islamabad June 20, 2014. World Refugee Day, an occasion that draws attention to those who have been displaced around the globe, falls on June 20. Reuters/Stringer

Regular eye tests can help diagnose onset of Alzheimer's disease, even before the symptoms appear, revealed studies presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Two different techniques were used, and both showed there was an indication of probable Alzheimer's disease in retina and lens of the eyes of the individuals tested. Both methods could distinguish between patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease and a healthy individual. The study is in initial stages and further research would have to be made to establish the findings. Once the doctors get an inkling of Alzheimer's disease, further tests, such as PET (positron emission tomography) scans or spinal fluid analysis, can be used to confirm the disease.

Alzheimer's disease occurs due to amyloid beta levels in the brain that cause blockage. These myloid levels can be found in retinas during routine eye tests. By "staining" the amyloid beta plague (using a laser scanner) in the retinas with curcumin, which is a component of turmeric, scientists were able to detect Alzheimer's disease in the eyes before it even reached the brain. Twenty probable Alzheimer's disease patients and 20 healthy volunteers were studied as part of the research. While the test detected Alzheimer's in 85 per cent of the probable patients, it ruled out 95 per cent of the healthy volunteers.

According to researchers, the eye tests work best when done early. "There are treatments for symptoms that work best early in the disease process. As time goes on, they become less effective," said Dr. Maria C. Carillo, senior director of Medical & Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer's Association.

Dr Carillo further added, "We're hoping that in a few years that we could roll this out as frontline screening for Alzheimer's disease, giving those at risk a much better chance of receiving treatment earlier. If we can identify people early, we can actually modify the course of the disease."

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