An Intriguing Theory

Adult with Altzheimer's disease.
Adult with Altzheimer’s disease.

A quick eye exam might one day allow eye doctors to check up on both your eyeglasses prescription and your brain health.

A study of more than 200 people at the Duke Eye Center publishing March 11 in the journal Ophthalmology Retina suggests the loss of blood vessels in the could signal Alzheimer’s disease.

In people with healthy brains, microscopic blood vessels form a dense web at the back of the eye inside the retina, as seen in 133 participants in a .

In the eyes of 39 people with Alzheimer’s disease, that web was less dense and even sparse in places. The differences in density were statistically significant after researchers controlled for factors including age, sex, and level of education, said Duke ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon Sharon Fekrat, M.D., the study’s senior author.

“We’re measuring blood vessels that can’t be seen during a regular eye exam and we’re doing that with relatively new noninvasive technology that takes high-resolution images of very small blood vessels within the retina in just a few minutes,” she said. “It’s possible that these changes in blood density in the retina could mirror what’s going on in the tiny blood vessels in the brain, perhaps before we are able to detect any changes in cognition.”

The study found differences in the retinas of those with Alzheimer’s disease when compared to healthy people and to those with , often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

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