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Are Our Eyes a Window Into Detecting Early Dementia?

Are Our Eyes a Window Into Detecting Early Dementia?

Did you know that over 170 systemic diseases can manifest in the eye? Just by looking into your eyes, your doctor can help detect things such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, thyroid conditions, autoimmune disease, anemia, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and cancer. With today’s rapidly growing technology, scientists may soon be adding Alzheimer’s Disease to that list.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, and 1 in 5 will suffer from it by age 85. Researchers have found that in AD, plaques of an extracellular deposit called amyloid-beta accumulate in the brain. Since the eye is an extension of the brain’s neural tissue, these plaques are also found to build up inside the eye’s retinal neurons.

A special type of low-cost and non-invasive retinal imaging called scanning laser ophthalmoscopy can be used to detect amyloid-beta in the eye. One study showed that this method detected 4.7x more amyloid-beta in retinas of patients with AD. It’s a promising prospect for early detection of AD before clinical signs, such as memory loss, begin to appear. This would open doors for early, preventative treatment.

Research still has a long way to go, however, since studies are still ongoing to determine how accurate this scan would be in diagnosing AD. We wonder how many other neurological conditions might also show up in the eye; perhaps this discovery is only the beginning!


Written by: Dr. Natalia Fong & Dr. Fabian Tai

Image Credit: Victor Freitas