What Your Ophthalmologist Can Tell You About Alzheimer’s Disease

The eyes aren’t just windows to your soul. They are windows to your brain, too.

If you want to know more about your potential risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, it’s possible that an eye exam can tell you more. Researchers at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto unveiled new technology that detects beta amyloid plaques in the brain.

Let’s explore more about this new technology and what your ophthalmologist might be able to tell you about Alzheimer’s disease.

Why Eye Exams are the Future of Alzheimer’s Screening

Medical experts are predicting that eye exams will be the future of Alzheimer’s screening. A simple, non-invasive trip to the eye doctor can determine the following, which are all potential risk factors for Alzheimer’s:

● Decreased retinal thickness
● Presence of abnormal proteins
● Changes in how the retinal blood vessels respond to light

The above signs may indicate an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease because they appear to be consistent with neurodegenerative disease. And, while the technology allows eye specialists to focus on the backs of the eyes, it wouldn’t require anything more than a simple visit to the opthamologist.

What Makes this New Technology Different?

At this time, amyloid plaques can be detected on the retina using technology that is expensive and complex. With these limitations, it’s extremely uncommon for people to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s early on. Instead, they wait until they see signs of the disease in their daily lives, and by this time, the damage has already been done.

Melanie Campbell, professor of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Waterloo, and her team of researchers, developed a new technology called polarimetry. This technology is what was introduced at the AAIC 2016.

Polarimetry uses polarized light to identify the presence of amyloid plaques. In research so far, it was found that amyloid deposits were easy to detect using polarimetry. It was also easy to count the number of plaques and measure their sizes, something that other imaging techniques cannot do.

More research is still needed before researchers fully understand how polarimetry can be used to detect Alzheimer’s. Though the detection of amyloid proteins is not a guarantee that a person will develop the disease, it can identify at-risk individuals so that they may slow the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s through diet, exercise, medication and other lifestyle choices.