BBC reported Tuesday that opticians could potentially spot early signs of dementia using an eye test.

The test, which is typically used to determine early signs of a developing eye disease, examines they eye’s retina.

After discovering that people with thin retinas are more susceptible to memory loss, scientists are hopeful that they can use this information to predict early onset dementia.

In a JAMA Neurology study, researchers measured the retinal nerve fiber layers of 32,000 people using “optical coherence tomography.”Additionally, participants were given memory, reaction time, and reasoning assessments. Scientists found that participants with thinner retinal nerve fiber layers were less likely to pass all three exams. The age range of the study participants was 40-69.

Some early signs of dementia include “memory loss, difficulty with carrying out familiar tasks and other types of cognitive decline.”

A professor at the University College London Institute of Opthalmology, Paul Foster, claims that optical coherence tomography tests could help determine whether or not someone is more or less at risk of developing dementia. Foster also believes that detecting symptoms or signs of dementia earlier on could increase the effectiveness of treatments that aim to slow down the development of the disease. “Also,” Foster added, “by targeting people in the earlier stages, it should be possible to design better clinical trials for treatments that make a real difference and improve people’s lives.”

Some scientists, however, claim that there is no evidence to directly link cognitive ability with retinal nerve fiber layer thickness.

Regardless, Dr. Laura Phipps urges scientists to continue their research. Phipps, who is affiliated with Alzheimer’s Research UK, says she is curious to see if other studies will link retinal thinness with a future risk of dementia. Phipps also confirmed that treatments for dementia are “likely to be most effective when given early in the disease process,” and therefore “research into sensitive and non-invasive early markers of disease is vital.”

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John Moore

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Phipps states that optical coherence tomography tests are also less expensive than a brain scan would be in determining early symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and that it’s more effective because the brain is protected by the skull, whereas the eye is not.

“While a diagnosis of dementia will always rely on results from a number of different tests,” she said, “further studies should look at how sensitive OCT could be at identifying those most at risk of cognitive decline in the general population.”



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