Michigan Association of Health Plans

Your Health: Eye exams could reveal Alzheimer’s risk

This story appeared in WILX. Read more here.

More than six million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease.

By 2050, that number is expected to grow to nearly 13 million.

When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, the earlier the diagnosis the better. New research suggests that eye doctors might be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier than ever before.

Sam Namer, 95, started losing his memory eight years ago. For decades, researchers have known beta-amyloid plaques in the brain play a significant role in Alzheimer’s.

“For some reason, in Alzheimer’s disease, it aggregates in your brain in a very big way,” said Robert Rissman

Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine believe beta-amyloid plaques — not in the brain, but in the retina — may be key to an even earlier diagnosis.

“It’s thought that people have amyloid plaques or accumulations in their brain of beta-amyloid, probably 10 to 20 years before they see any real symptoms,” Rissman said. “So, the question here is, ‘Is amyloid in the retina at the same time, or before that?’”

In a small study, Rissman found that the presence of retinal spots in the eyes correlated with brain scans showing higher levels of cerebral amyloid. This could be one of the first signs of the disease and these spots can be detected during a normal eye exam.

“The goal would be for optometrists and ophthalmologists to be able to be the first line people to screen for Alzheimer’s disease in their yearly meet-ups with their patients,” Rissman emphasizes.

This is important because the earlier the diagnosis, the earlier you can be prepared.

In the next step, researchers are planning a larger study of people at the asymptomatic stage.

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