Hidden Signs in Your Retina Indicate Alzheimer’s Decades Before Symptoms

Alzheimer’s is an insidious brain disease marked by a slow mental decline that can develop unnoticed for decades before symptoms arise, but hidden signs of the condition might exist much sooner. A simple eye test may make diagnosing the earliest stages of ‘diseases of old age’ possible when people are much younger, University of Otago  researchers in New Zeland hope.

Parts of our retina have previously been proposed as biomarkers for Alzheimer’s, but researchers from Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit have been investigating the retina’s potential to indicate cognitive change earlier in life.

Study lead Dr Ashleigh Barrett-Young says diseases of old age, such as Alzheimer’s, are usually diagnosed when people start forgetting things or acting out of character.

This is often when the disease is quite far along. Early detection is possible through MRI or other brain imaging, but this is expensive and impractical for most.

“In the near future, it’s hoped that artificial intelligence will be able to take an image of a person’s retina and determine whether that person is at risk for Alzheimer’s long before they begin showing symptoms, and when there is a possibility of treatment to mitigate the symptoms,” she says.

The study, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, analysed data from 865 Dunedin Study participants looking specifically at the retinal nerve fibre layer (RNFL) and ganglion cell layer (GCL) at age 45.

Source: https://www.otago.ac.nz/