Imagine if a simple eye test could diagnose degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Researchers could be one step closer.
Diagnosing degenerative brain diseases is difficult to do accurately and usually, the disease can only be confirmed by examining the brain tissue during an autopsy. Yet, the need for accurate and early diagnosis methods is becoming increasingly urgent as medical advances are made in treating these diseases. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found evidence that a simple eye exam and retinal imaging test could help improve that accuracy.
At Eyes Focused on You, our primary goal is to provide our patients with the information and assistance they need to take charge of their health and the health of their families. While no such eye test is available yet to the general public, it's worth being aware of the progress being made in this area because degenerative brain diseases affect so many of us directly, and indirectly. In fact, about 747,000 Canadians live with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, and at least 44 million people have dementia worldwide.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a general term used to describe a decline in mental ability that is serious enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss, confusion, and the inability to perform simple tasks are examples of how dementia can impact us. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia, which is caused by the degeneration or death of nerve cells in the brain.
Simple eye test links thinning retina with dementia
In the Penn study, an inexpensive and non-invasive eye-imaging test found that patients with dementia had a thinning of the retina, compared to those in the study who did not have dementia. The study also found that the degree of retinal thinning among patients with dementia tended to be significantly worse when the patients' scores on a standard cognition test were lower.
What is the retina?
The retina is a light-sensitive layer at the back of the eyeball. It triggers nerve impulses to the brain which turns them into visual images, enabling us to make sense of the world around us. It may seem puzzling that the inside of the eyeball can provide us with information about the health of the brain but actually, the eyes are an extension of the brain and they work together to provide us with vision.
The University of Pennsylvania's findings are very encouraging and support the findings of previous studies in this area which have also suggested that patients with Alzheimer's disease and ALS may have a thinning of the retina. Research is ongoing and hopefully, one day soon, a simple eye test may be all it takes to safely and accurately confirm or rule out Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.