Look Into My Eyes – and You May See Signs of Alzheimer's

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A new, non-invasive imaging device can pick up signs of Alzheimer's disease in just seconds, according to researchers at Duke Eye Center who published their findings in Ophthalmology Retina, a journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The Duke researchers used an imaging procedure called optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) to detect changes in small retinal blood vessels that are narrower than a human hair. OCTA was able to distinguish changes in these blood vessels caused by Alzheimer’s from those resulting from mild cognitive impairment, another form of dementia. The researchers believe these changes mirror the disease process in the brain because blood vessels in the brain and the retina share a number of similarities.

The study involved 39 people with Alzheimer's, 37 with mild cognitive impairment, and 133 healthy controls. In Alzheimer’s patients, researchers discovered a loss of small retinal blood vessels and thinner retina compared to the other two groups, even after they adjusted for other factors like age and gender.

The researchers say that OCTA could make it significantly easier to diagnose Alzheimer's earlier. Current tests are expensive, some have risks, and by the time symptoms develop, the disease is advanced. Although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, earlier diagnosis could lead to development of new treatments and give people with the disease and their families more time to make plans for care.