Promising New Eye Exam to Diagnose Alzheimer’s Early
Scientists and doctors increasingly encourage people to get tested early for Alzheimer’s disease should they have a reason to think they are at risk. Since there is no cure for the disease, many people understandably wonder what the advantage of early diagnosis may be. Considering that testing is often invasive and expensive, such as those tests developed using spinal fluid, there is a reason to be skeptical. Now, however, newly developed methods used during eye exams that can identify very early Alzheimer’s disease offer a risk free, cost effective method of early detection.
According to an article on CNN Health, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles who were studying cadavers made some observations. They found that the amount of beta amyloid protein in the brain closely corresponded to the amount of beta amyloid protein in the retina of the eye. A significant amount of beta amyloid proteins in the brain is generally considered a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers are now conducting a clinical trial to see if the retinal test can identify people who may be starting to develop Alzheimer's but have yet to show symptoms. The testing is still in early stages and will take time and further testing to prove useful in the early detection of AD.
Since many people see their optometrist for new eye glass prescriptions more often than they see their family doctor, this test could be on the front line of Alzheimer’s detection. It’s simple, painless and relatively inexpensive.
Researchers following several approaches to diagnosing AD through eye exams
Paul Hartung, president and CEO of Cognoptix, says his company has developed a test that looks for amyloid proteins in the lens of the eye. He feels that his company’s approach will be more specific in determining Alzheimer’s risk than the tests that concentrate on the retina.
Cognoptix is currently testing 40 patients in their clinical trial. The company maintains that if their test proves effective, it would cost approximately one-tenth the amount of a PET scan, which is a common but expensive test given to help diagnose Alzheimer’s. Early data on this test was presented at the June meeting of the Alzheimer's Association.
Yet another test in development tracks subtle eye flickers known as saccadic movements. When people begin to exhibit cognitive changes, these eye movements can become more erratic and slower. The researchers say that these movements may not be specific to Alzheimer’s disease, so much of the information gathered is geared toward discovering the differences between several neurological disorders.
Early detection matters
Knowing early in the process if you are developing Alzheimer’s disease can help you plan for your future and that of your loved ones. Since new therapies have been developed to help people better cope with the cognitive challenges of day to day living when symptoms do appear, there are now practical reasons to be tested early for Alzheimer’s disease when warranted. It’s possible that one or more of these eye exams may prove to be an effective tool in this process.
Gupta, S. (2013, August 18) Can we predict Alzheimer's a decade before symptoms? CNN Health. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/17/health/alzheimers-test-eye/index.html?iref=allsearch