THE EYES HAVE IT!

Well, it seems that suffering from an eye condition could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s, scientists warn. People with glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy were all found to be at a greater risk of Alzheimer’s, a study found. Any of these problems brings a 40 – 50% higher chance of developing the condition, which robs people of their memories.

It could be because the eye is the window of the brain and displays the same degeneration that is happening in the mind. Lead author Dr Cicilia Lee, from the University of Washington, said: ‘We don’t mean that people with these eye conditions will get Alzheimer’s disease. The main message is that ophthalmologists should be more aware of the risk of developing dementia for people with these eye conditions – and primary care doctors seeing patients with eye conditions might be more careful on checking on possible dementia or memory loss.’

Glaucoma is caused by fluid built up in the front part of the eye, damaging the optic nerve which connects the eye to the brain. It affects more than 600,000 people in the UK, as does age-related macular degeneration, which affects central vision and can lead to blindness. Diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes which damages the retina because of high blood sugar levels, affects more than 1.5 million people in Britain.

Experts examined the eyes of 3,877 patients over the age of 65 and screening them for Alzheimer’s over an average follow-up period of 5 years. Over that time, 792 people were diagnosed with this form of dementia. The results show people with diabetic retinopathy had a 44% higher risk of Alzheimer’s, while age-related macular degeneration sufferers saw their odds of dementia rise by a fifth.

There was a 46% higher risk for people with recently diagnosed glaucoma, but not for those with established glaucoma. The study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that the results cannot be explained by age-related decline as age was taken into account.

But the eyes and brain may share a pathway in the body which causes both to stop working properly. Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said it was important that research continues to explore this link adding that 1 in 6 people with dementia have some form of visual impairment.

That’s the reason that people suffering with diabetes are always urged to have their eyes examined on a yearly basis.

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