Alzheimer’s and Eye Disease


SEATTLE, Wash. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Researchers at the University of Washington and Kaiser Permanente Washington tracked more than 3,000 people for nearly 30 years in a program called adult changes in thought, or ACT. They discovered that people who developed one or more of three eye conditions had a greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s. This finding could be a big step toward better diagnoses and treatment.

Eighty-six-year-old Lamartine McDowell has glaucoma and macular degeneration. Despite that, she is excited to learn about researchers finding a connection between age-related eye conditions and Alzheimer’s.

“I think it’ a good idea. The more you can find out, the better!” McDowell said.

Cecilia Lee, MD, MS, Lead Researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine said, “we thought that by looking at conditions that happen in the aging eye, we might be able to learn what else is happening to the aging brain, specifically, Alzheimer’s disease.” (Read Full Interview)

Researchers found people who developed glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or macular degeneration had a 40 to 50 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Dr. Lee says that this discovery may lead to a new paradigm for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s in the future.

“By noticing what’s happening in the eye, we’ll be able to predict who develops Alzheimer’s disease and potentially develop treatments that can target these patients,” stated Dr. Lee.

Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, Vice President for Research and Healthcare Innovation at Kaiser Permanente Washington has worked with Alzheimer’s patients for 40 years and says it’s critical to address the disease now. By 2050 more than 13-million Americans could have Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Larson said, “It’s a very, very common condition, and unless we find ways to prevent it, delay it, or effectively treat it, we’re going to have a pandemic.”

He hopes their discovery will broaden how researchers look at solving the mystery of Alzheimer’s.

To check that the link between three eye conditions and Alzheimer’s was not just from age, researchers looked at cataracts. Cataracts were not a predictor of Alzheimer’s risk. Next, the team will try to figure out the exact connection between the eye conditions and Alzheimer’s.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.


To receive a free weekly e-mail on Medical Breakthroughs from Ivanhoe, sign up at:








REPORT:        MB #4468


BACKGROUND: Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s has no cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. Although current Alzheimer’s treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort underway to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.



PREDICTORS: There are some clinical predictors of Alzheimer’s that can not be controlled, such as age, genetics, and history of previous heart attack. At age 60 approximately one percent of that population will have Alzheimer’s. This doubles approximately every three to five years until one hits 75 years old, then it triples. There are at least 12 clinical predictors that we can control. There are those that are obvious such as obesity (BMI over 30), insulin resistant diabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stress. An assessment of your own likelihood of these risk factors and others can predict the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s, whether you are genetically predisposed or not. Obesity in women may give a 300 percent increase in the likelihood of Alzheimer’s, meaning if at 60 years of age, you have a one percent chance of Alzheimer’s, this may increase your risk to three percent. Men show a 30 percent increase in Alzheimer’s with a Body Mass Index over 30, or waist size of 40 or more.



NEW RESEARCH: Researchers at the University of Washington and Kaiser Permanente Washington found that people with glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration are at about forty to fifty percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to people who do not have those eye conditions.  Cecilia Lee, MD, MS, Professor at the University of Washington elaborated, “Our study results should not be alarming to the patients who have these eye conditions. But, the study results should really increase the awareness, especially of ophthalmologists and perhaps primary care physicians, who should really know that there is an important link between these eye conditions and Alzheimer’s disease. So, whenever they see patients that they know have those three eye conditions, maybe they will benefit from further evaluation, especially if the doctors are suspicious of cognitive decline with dementia.”

(Source: Cecilia Lee, MD, MS)



Cecilia S. Lee, MD, MS

University of Washington

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Cecilia Lee, MD, MS

Read the entire Q&A