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Sun 26
Alzheimer’s may be diagnosed via eye exam

Alzheimer’s may be diagnosed via eye exam

Researchers found a possible connection between eye fundus blood vessels and Alzheimer neurodegenerative disease

Amanda Milléo

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease currently does not benefit from a specific exam or blood markers which indicate the presence of the neurodegenerative disease. Neurologists and geriatrists usually base their diagnoses on the patient’s history, on reports by family members, on the use of scales and the exclusion of other diseases, but a new study promises to change this assessment in the future.

Research published by scientific magazine Ophthalmology Retina suggests patients with Alzheimer’s have a reduction in the thickness of a layer of the retina called fovea centralis. Therefore, whenever the patient is examined by the eye exam called Angio OCT (or angiographic OCT), that difference becomes evident, and might serve as a tool to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

The results, however, still haven’t surprised the experts. First of all, because only 39 patients with Alzheimer’s have been assessed during the study, and, second, because there is no “magic” number which indicates the ideal thickness of that region of the retina, as explains Elizabeth Guimarães, an ophthalmologist at São Paulo’s Santa Casa Hospital and member of the Brazilian Ophthalmologist Council.

“This is a vascular layer of the fovea region, with no magic number for its ideal thickness. And, in the meantime, each measuring device provide a different number, so, in the meantime, it is difficult to use it as a parameter,” explains the doctor.

Still, Guimarães is hopeful of an advancement in the research, and, if it is proven that all patients have such alterations, and especially if it is able to determine the stage of Alzheimer’s that patient is currently is in, the exam may serve as a tool for a precocious diagnosis.

“This may become an important tool for people who already have Alzheimer’s in their family, or some form of recent memory alteration, which can be in itself a sign of the disease. The exam may help to confirm a diagnosis, but it can’t be used on its own,” points out the specialist.

New exams, new treatments

Alzheimer’s still does not have a cure, nor a treatment which might reduce the advance of the neurodegenerative disease. The medication used nowadays by patients aims at controlling the symptoms, according to Gustavo Franklin, a neurologist at the Federal University of Paraná’s Hospital das Clínicas (HC/UFPR).

“The medication is symptomatic. If the patient is forgetful, I prescribe a medication to strengthen his or her memory. But the degeneration process, the death of the organism’s cells, continues, and we have no way of interrupting that. Now we can understand better what is happening, which might help us in preventing the disease in the future,” explains the doctor.

Of all the signs which indicate the presence of the disease, the family should watch out for the cognitive symptoms. For instance, loss of recent memory, difficulty in realizing a risky situation, forgetfulness, and difficulty to locate oneself in time and space, among others.

According to information released by the Brazilian Alzheimer’s Association (ABRAz), advanced age is considered the main risk factor. After 65 years of age, the risk doubles every five years.

Women are also at greater risk, especially since they tend to live longer than men. Those who have family members with Alzheimer’s should attend consultations with neurologists more often.

“Even though the disease is not considered hereditary, there are cases, especially when the disease begins before the age of 65, in which the genetic background is important. These cases account for 10 percent of all patients with Alzheimer’s,” points out the ABRAz.

Preventing Alzheimer’s

There are no ways of effectively preventing Alzheimer’s, but some measures may help, such as:

  • Living a physically active life;
  • Having good dietary habits;
  • Practicing intellectual activities;
  • Controlling other chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity;
  • Reducing tobacco use and sedentariness.

 

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