Routine eye exam could one day diagnose Alzheimer's before symptoms show, Duke doctors say

DURHAM, North Carolina -- A routine eye exam may one day be the key to diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, before you even have symptoms.

A study completed at Duke Eye Center and published March 11 in the journal Ophthalmology Retina suggests the loss of blood vessels in the retina could signal Alzheimer's disease.

"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," Duke ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon Dr. Sharon Fekrat said. "It's possible that these changes in blood vessel 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."

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Fekrat said the findings suggest microscopic blood vessels in the back of the eye appear less dense in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

With more research, it is possible your eye doctor could diagnose the disease earlier than is currently possible.

"Ultimately, the goal would be to use this technology to detect Alzheimer's early, before symptoms of memory loss are evident, and be able to monitor these changes over time in participants of clinical trials studying new Alzheimer's treatments," Fekrat said.

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