Alzheimer’s: Can Your Eyes Predict?


SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, the earlier the diagnosis the better and soon, maybe your eye doctor will be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier than ever before.

Today, more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, that number is expected to grow to 12.7 million.

Early diagnosis is key to slowing the progression of this memory-stealing, brain-changing disease. Soon, a regular eye exam may reveal if you’re at risk.

Ninety-five-year-old Sam Namer 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,” says Robert Rissman, PhD, professor of neurosciences at UCSD School of Medicine.

(Read Full Interview)

Now, a team of researchers at UC 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.

Rissman adds, “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. 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.

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

The retinal imaging would significantly cut down on costly MRI and PET scans. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, treating Alzheimer’s and dementia cost $355 billion last year. By 2050, these costs could rise to one point one trillion.

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

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer.

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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 60-80% of dementia cases. In 2020, as many as 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people living with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65. Scientists believe Alzheimer’s disease prevents parts of a cell’s factory from running well. They are not sure where the trouble starts. But just like a real factory, backups, and breakdowns in one system cause problems in other areas. As damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs and, eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain.


DIAGNOSING: The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary from person to person. Memory problems are typically one of the first signs of cognitive impairment related to Alzheimer’s disease. Decline in non-memory aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment, may also signal the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. And some people may be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. As the disease progresses, people experience greater memory loss and other cognitive difficulties. Alzheimer’s disease progresses in several stages: preclinical, mild (sometimes called early-stage), moderate, and severe (sometimes called late-stage).


NEW TECHNOLOGY: While it has been said that the eyes are a window to the soul, a new study shows they could be a means for understanding diseases of the brain. According to new research by scientists at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, retinal scans can detect key changes in blood vessels that may provide an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, while offering important insights into how one of the most common Alzheimer’s risk genes contributes to the disease. “The most prevalent genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease is a variant of the APOE gene, known as APOE4,” said lead author Fanny Elahi, MD, PhD. “We still don’t fully understand how this variant increases risk of brain degeneration, we just know that it does, and that this risk is modified by sex, race, and lifestyle. Our research provides new insights into how APOE4 impacts blood vessels and may provide a path forward for early detection of neurodegenerative disease.”



Michelle Brubaker

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Dr. Robert Rissman, MD, professor of Neurosciences

Read the entire Q&A